Military investigators knew nine months ago that two families in California had been given an incorrect explanation for the deaths of two National Guard soldiers in Iraq, but "a clarification ... was not provided," according to Army documents released Wednesday.
The father of one of those soldiers, as well as U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), accused the military of suppressing the fact that the soldiers were apparently killed by Iraqi trainees in order to shore up public support for the war.
Spc. Patrick R. McCaffrey Sr., 34, of Tracy, Calif., and 1st Lt. Andre D. Tyson, 33, of Riverside were killed in June 2004 as they patrolled farmland near the town of Balad, about 50 miles north of Baghdad.
The military had initially informed the families that the soldiers had been attacked and killed by insurgents. But military officials have since determined that the soldiers were killed by purported allies: Iraqi civil-defense officers who had been recently trained by U.S. troops and were patrolling with the soldiers.
The Army Criminal Investigation Division Command, using intelligence from Iraqi police, had determined by September 2005 that the families had been given the wrong explanation for the soldiers' deaths, according to documents the Army sent to members of Congress this week.
The military revealed what it knew only this week, bringing a summary of the investigation to the homes of the soldiers' mothers. An Army official, speaking on condition of anonymity, acknowledged a delay but attributed it to the "complexity of the case."
Boxer said the delay raised "troubling questions" and was reminiscent of the military's treatment of the death of Pat Tillman, the former professional football player killed by "friendly fire" in Afghanistan in April 2004.
The Army initially reported that Tillman was killed by enemy fire while leading troops in battle. The Army later acknowledged, however, that Tillman had been killed by gunfire from his fellow soldiers. Critics, including Tillman's parents, have alleged a high-level cover-up.
Nadia McCaffrey, the mother of Patrick McCaffrey, has said that her questions about her son's death had remained unanswered for months until she persuaded Boxer to push the Pentagon on the issue in late May.
"If the American people knew that the people we are directly helping train turned on our soldiers, support for this war would slip," Boxer said. "It's very disturbing to think that the Pentagon might be told to keep this thing close to the vest.... You get the sense the Pentagon hasn't learned from some of these terrible situations."
Boxer pointed out that the clarification had not come as a shock to the parents.
McCaffrey's parents have long suspected he was killed by Iraqi trainees. A Los Angeles Times Magazine article last year, based on interviews with the soldiers' commander and colleagues, noted that two Iraqi trainees looked nervous and detached themselves from the patrol shortly before the shooting.
And soldiers from McCaffrey's company had noted at least two disturbing incidents involving Iraqi trainees.
In one incident, they recognized several insurgents they had killed as recent trainees. In another, McCaffrey had taken part in a patrol to find the source of a rocket that had landed inside the Americans' base. McCaffrey's unit stopped two Iraqis who tested positive for having been in the vicinity of TNT and another explosive. McCaffrey recognized one of the detainees as a man he had trained earlier that day.
"We knew what we felt was the truth surrounding our son's murder," McCaffrey's father, Bob McCaffrey, said Wednesday. "But we have run into a stone wall for almost two years trying to obtain this information."
McCaffrey said he believed Boxer's assessment was "spot-on."
"Iraqi troops are turning on their American counterparts," he said. "That puts a knock in the spin that the White House is trying to put on this story -- how the Iraqis are being well trained and are getting ready to take over." The White House declined to comment.
Times staff writer Julian E. Barnes in Washington contributed to this report.