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Errors, cover-ups cry for punishment

Published April 26, 2007


The American people saw Tuesday how far the military would go to exploit the tragedy of its own men and women in uniform. A House committee walked through the lies that turned Army Ranger Pat Tillman and Pvt. Jessica Lynch into heroes in the war on terror rather than victims of their commanders' mistakes. Few abuses of power rank up there with a government fabricating the conduct of a war. Congress needs to force the Pentagon to come clean and punish those responsible.

Tillman had already become a national hero, leaving fame and fortune as an NFL star to join the Army after 9/11. Lynch, who enlisted in July 2001, was ambushed when her convoy got lost in Iraq. Her later rescue from an Iraqi hospital was glorified as a symbol of the American military spirit. But as Lynch told House members: "The story of the little girl Rambo from the hills who went down fighting, it was not true."

Tillman was killed in Afghanistan in 2004 in a friendly-fire accident the Army concealed from his family and the public for weeks, even after a nationally televised memorial service. Three investigations found a breakdown of order on the battlefield. Tillman's chain-of-command, freaked out by losing a poster boy for the war, went out of its way to suppress the truth, even though Army commanders closest to the tragedy were told almost immediately Tillman was killed by friendly fire.

Committee members were right to blast the Pentagon's acting inspector general Tuesday for the light investigation he completed last month. While singling out several officers for punishment, the inspector found no cause for criminal action and declared: "I don't see that it was a cover-up." Little wonder - Tillman's superiors kept the investigation in-house, in violation of Army policy. Those leading the first two probes never visited the site, secured evidence or took photographs. One officer withheld information from medical examiners. An independent investigator was not appointed for six months, by which time, as the inspector noted, "most of the forensic evidence had been destroyed."

The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform needs to correct the record, find those who perverted it and remove them from government service. There are friendly-fire casualties in all wars and most are reported as such. Military members and their families deserve to know the truth. They also need to know their sacrifices are appreciated for more than their propaganda value.

[Last modified April 25, 2007, 21:15:58]

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