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Censure in death of NFL's Tillman

August 01, 2007|Joel Havemann | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The official Army investigation of the friendly-fire death of Army Ranger Pat Tillman found that many soldiers made mistakes in the initial probes of Tillman's death -- but that most of the mistakes were not intended to deceive Tillman's family or the public, Pentagon officials said Tuesday.

However, retired Lt. Gen. Philip R. Kensinger Jr., who was a senior officer in the chain of command for Tillman's unit, was singled out for knowingly trying to mislead investigators. He received a letter of censure.

Army Secretary Pete Geren said he censured Kensinger for lying about when he became aware that the former NFL player's death may have been caused by his fellow soldiers.

Geren has asked an Army review panel to determine whether Kensinger should be demoted from a three-star to a two-star general, a move that would cost him about $900 of his monthly $9,400 retirement.

"Had Lt. Gen. Kensinger done his job, we would not be here today," Geren said at a news conference. "There was a perfect storm of mistakes, misjudgments and a failure of leadership."

Tillman, who gave up a multimillion-dollar football contract with the Arizona Cardinals to join the elite Army unit after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, was killed in Afghanistan on April 22, 2004. "Cpl. Tillman died going to the aid of his fellow Rangers, who were under enemy attack," Geren said, "and his actions saved the lives of the man next to him and possibly others."

The Army initially announced that Tillman had been killed by the enemy. But Kensinger had reason to suspect within two days of Tillman's death that he had been killed by friendly fire; he told investigators he did not know that until a week later, according to a report by the Army's inspector general. The truth of the circumstances surrounding Tillman's death did not come out for more than a month.

Geren said officers initially investigating Tillman's death mistakenly assumed that findings regarding fratricide -- the formal name for friendly fire -- were to be kept secret from the victim's family and shared only up the chain of command.

"Almost incredibly but true," he said, "the misunderstanding of Army regulations and policy about secrecy was shared up and down the chain of command, up to and including Lt. Gen. Kensinger, commanding general of the U.S. Army Special Operations Command."

Keeping the investigation's findings secret, Geren said, "created in the mind of many a perception that the Army intended to deceive the public and the Tillman family about the circumstances of Cpl. Tillman's death.... This perception of deceit is understandable, but it is not supported by the facts found" in several investigations.

"Lt. Gen. Kensinger failed in duty to his soldiers," Geren said, "and the results were a calamity for the Army."

Asked why Tillman's family should be satisfied with the results of this investigation, Geren could answer only that this time the Army got it right.

"I can understand, considering how the Army mishandled this matter from very early on, how they would reach the conclusion that I'm afraid many Americans have reached: that there was a cover-up," Geren said. "The facts just don't support that conclusion."

Geren also meted out less serious reprimands to six other soldiers.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is holding a hearing today into what the senior Pentagon leadership knew about the circumstances surrounding Tillman's death. Former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld is scheduled to testify.

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