WASHINGTON — The Army secretary is expected to take the rare step of recommending a retired three-star general be demoted for misleading investigators probing the military's handling of the 2004 death of Army Ranger Pat Tillman, Defense officials said Thursday.
The move by Army Secretary Pete Geren would go beyond the punishment recommended by the military general assigned to review findings of a critical report earlier this year by the Pentagon inspector general. Defense officials said Geren believed the findings that retired Lt. Gen. Philip R. Kensinger Jr. misled investigators merited the harsh punishment.
Stripping a retired general of a star is an unusual move, and Army lawyers have been carefully reviewing the case. As a retired lieutenant general, Kensinger receives a retirement benefit of $9,400 a month. If demoted to major general, he would lose about $900 each month.
However, Kensinger and other officers will avoid criminal charges and face only administrative punishment, officials said. Geren is expected to formally issue the recommendation next week.
Army officials said Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates had to approve Geren's final recommendation first.
Tillman, the NFL player who gave up a multimillion-dollar contract to enlist in the Army, was mistakenly killed in Afghanistan by another member of his platoon. The Army initially announced that Tillman died in combat and not from friendly fire.
Although officers knew the truth soon after the incident, the military waited a month before telling Tillman's family he was not killed by Afghan militants.
Revelations about the Army's delay led to withering public criticism and several investigations. Eventually, the Defense Department inspector general began a probe into how the Army handled the incident.
The inspector general's report, released in March, was critical of the actions of nine officers, including four generals. That report was handed over to Gen. William S. Wallace, the commander of Army Training and Doctrine Command, to recommend punishment.
Officials briefed on the Wallace report said it, in some instances, went beyond the inspector general's investigation and singled out an additional general for punishment for failing to raise questions about Tillman's Silver Star nomination.
Wallace will recommend administrative punishments for four of the five generals whose actions he reviewed and three of five lower-ranked officers.
The Army will spare Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who currently oversees Special Operations forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. Officials briefed on the report said that McChrystal was spared because he tried to alert his chain of command that Tillman may have been killed by friendly fire.
An administrative rebuke of McChrystal, a favorite of the White House and Pentagon, could have prevented him from eventually becoming the top Special Operations commander.
The most serious accusations in the inspector general's report released in March were against Kensinger. The report said he probably learned that Tillman was killed by friendly fire two days after the incident, but he told investigators that he did not learn of the information until a week later, on the eve of Tillman's memorial service.
Army officials insisted Geren had not yet made a ruling on the case. The recommended demotion of Kensinger was first reported Thursday by CNN.
"The secretary is considering taking some additional administrative actions in addition to the Wallace report, but no final decision has been made," said Col. Dan Baggio, an Army spokesman.
Baggio said a formal announcement of the Wallace report findings and Geren's actions would be made after the Tillman family and members of Congress were notified.
Although Geren is expected to try to speak personally to Tillman's relatives, Defense officials said they did not expect them to be satisfied with the outcome. Tillman's mother, Mary, told the Associated Press on Thursday that the punishment was inadequate.
"I am not satisfied with any of it," she said.
A Defense official briefed on the results of the Wallace investigation said it should put to rest theories that Army officers conspired to hide the truth about Tillman.
"The Army was not trying to trick America, they weren't trying to trick anybody," said a Defense official. "They just didn't handle it well."