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Army to Launch Criminal Probe of Tillman's Death

The inquiry could determine whether the ex-NFL player's fellow soldiers should face negligence charges.

March 05, 2006|Mark Mazzetti | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The Army said Saturday that it would launch a criminal probe into the death of Pat Tillman, the onetime National Football League star who was inadvertently killed by gunfire from fellow soldiers in the mountains of Afghanistan in April 2004.

The Army's decision came after the Pentagon's inspector general reviewed the case and recommended further investigation into whether soldiers in Tillman's unit should be charged with negligent homicide.

The Army completed an extensive review of the case last year.

Gen. Gary M. Jones, who led the probe, found no reason to hold any soldier criminally responsible for Tillman's death.

Yet Tillman's family has been critical of Jones' review, alleging a high-level coverup, and Tillman's father successfully lobbied the Pentagon to renew its investigation of the case.

Army spokesman Col. Joseph Curtin said Tillman's family was notified Friday that the Army's Criminal Investigation Command, known as CID, would take up the case.

Curtin said the scope of the investigation had not been determined, but one Pentagon official said Saturday that CID would be looking into whether any of the troops were criminally negligent.

"They are going to see if anyone acted carelessly and to see if anyone was not doing what disciplined soldiers should do when they engage targets," said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about an ongoing investigation.

The official said he could not recall any case of a U.S. soldier being charged with negligent homicide for a friendly-fire incident and said it would probably be a very difficult case to prove.

The news of the CID probe was first reported Saturday by CNN.

The Army's announcement is the latest episode in a saga that began when Tillman was killed during a combat operation in the remote mountains near the Pakistan border. Shortly after Tillman's death, the Army said he was killed by enemy fire while leading troops in battle, scaling a hill to ensure the safety of other soldiers in his unit.

The Army awarded him a Silver Star for combat bravery, and during a televised memorial service Tillman was praised for his heroism under fire.

Weeks later, the Army acknowledged that Tillman had been a victim of friendly fire during the firefight and admitted that soldiers destroyed evidence -- Tillman's uniform and flak vest -- after the shooting.

Jones' report found that Army officers told soldiers to remain quiet about the circumstances of Tillman's death for fear of negative news coverage.

The Army has also acknowledged that top commanders in the field, including Army Gen. John P. Abizaid of U.S. Central Command, had been told at the time of the Silver Star award that Tillman had died at the hands of U.S. troops.

Army officials have apologized to Tillman's family for the way the case was handled.

It was unclear Saturday whether the Pentagon inspector general discovered any new evidence of criminal behavior, or whether the announcement was the Pentagon's latest attempt at damage control, a public move to show that the military was not trying to downplay the incident.

In an interview with The Times last year, Jones said his review had found no evidence of an attempt to hide the truth. "The evidence from my investigation tells me that no one attempted to cover up or conceal anything in the course of this investigation," he said.

The most serious reprimand so far for Rangers in Tillman's unit has been for dereliction of duty. Four of the soldiers have been removed from the Rangers.

Tillman cut short a lucrative NFL career when he joined the Army with his brother shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The brothers completed a combat tour in Iraq before deploying to Afghanistan.

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