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[In this final chapter of the Tillman Files, Stan Goff assesses the cover-up of events surrounding Tillman’s death as symptomatic of nothing less than the final stages of imperialism: “Exterminism, the acceptance of mass death as the price of doing business.”—CB]
The Tillman Files - Part 7
Botched Crime Scene Investigation
FTW Military/Veterans Affairs Editor
© Copyright 2006, From The Wilderness Publications, www.fromthewilderness.com. All Rights Reserved. This story may NOT be posted on any Internet web site without express written permission. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org. May be circulated, distributed or transmitted for non-profit purposes only.
A second lieutenant and an infantry sergeant are not tasked with anything as politically sensitive as assassination. I am speaking as an alumnus of Delta Force, one of the few organizations that actually might be entrusted with this kind of operation (and then only very rarely). It doesn’t matter what you see in the movies.
The decisions that placed Pat Tillman at exactly the place and exactly the time of his death were made ad hoc, on the spot, at a series of junctures that could not have been controlled, including a vehicle that unexpectedly broke down, one key decision made by an Afghan jinga truck driver and Pat’s own decision (following two on-the-spot decisions by members of his platoon in direct response to a completely unexpected situation) to move forward into the position where he was shot.
The mystique of Special Operations (including the Rangers, who are the Special Operations’ shock infantry component) is useful as a deterrent, but it is not reflective of a reality. The Pentagon and others want you and the rest of the world to believe this mystique, because your fear and the fear of the rest of the world is what maintains the efficacy of a huge bluff. This government wants us to spin out as many scary fantasies as possible, because it serves the dual purpose of either portraying opponents of the military as “conspiracy nuts” or promoting precisely the myth of spooky invincibility that keeps us in line.
I came straight from the bowels of this system, and I have written three books exposing the worst aspects of the military. If they haven’t cut my brake lines or shot me when I’m out fishing yet, then they didn’t kill Pat Tillman because he criticized the war in Iraq and read a book by Noam Chomsky.
I say this as a preface to what I am about to present, because unanswered questions have a habit of getting answered by our imaginations. Declaring that there isn’t an answer to a question then providing one with the implicit assumption that this is the answer ignores the very common and simple fact that many, many things are done for reasons that are not linear and logical, and it further ignores that we don’t have all the information necessary to form a useful conclusion. It’s like saying -- had one lived in 1400 AD -- if this fever is not being caused by witchcraft, then what is causing it? And it ignores the fact that not all human actions -- in fact, arguably, only a few of them -- are motivated by causal logic or even well-thought-out intent.
Having ruled out a conspiracy, at least to my own satisfaction, there remain a number of open questions about the evidentiary trail left in the wake of Pat’s death by fratricide. That means there are a number of questions that might be explained as accident, incompetence, spin, and-or cover-up as viable hypotheses. All four of these particular dynamics were in play as the multiple determinants of Pat’s death and what we can quite reasonably, at this point, conclude was a cover-up.
Everyone who came into contact with Pat Tillman’s body after the killing was stepping under multiple emergency spotlights.
With the increasingly sophisticated and penetrative mass media, and the consolidation of that media into a handful of multinational corporations, the production of mass consciousness has become qualitatively different, more generally conforming, and has inaugurated a new reality reflected imprecisely by academic postmodernism: the “narrative” now has more power than ever to create a reality in its own image. Production, however, is not explicitly ideological. It is driven by competition for market share, and entertainment is the commodity… a kind of bread and circuses default that prefigures a more general breakdown of authentic community. This is in turn reflected by officialdom attempting to map its own propaganda onto entertainment media conventions.
The President himself is costumed as a cowboy or a fighter pilot, as we enter a postmodern era where life imitates art, and politics imitates cheap cinematic conventions. Actors and wrestlers become Presidents and Governors. “News” personalities in pancake makeup pander to niche markets of misdirected outrage.
The image is all. The image replaces reality. The narrative is reality. We are in Oz, the land of postmodern American politics where anything real threatens to pull back the curtain. Anything corporeal breaks the circuits on the narrative. It has to be removed and put as far away as possible.
Nothing could be as disruptive to this narrative, at this particular time, as the maimed body of a human being whose history would draw public attention, and for whom the circumstances of his death give the lie to the Panglossian, Tom Clancy bullshit story that was being spun out about the progress of the Energy War. Around the remains of Pat Tillman, as it was carried from the field, studied and processed by the military bureaucracy, flown across the globe to his family, there was a strengthening vortex of fear, confusion, accident, incompetence, spin, and cover-up. It was a vortex that reached from the mouth of a canyon in Paktia Province into the buffed, fluorescent hallways of the Pentagon.
This was the contradictory context of the post-mortem that flew into the face of the postmodern.
The interviews from multiple investigations say little about what happened with Pat’s body. Before Pat was rendered inert by three machine gun bullets through his head, he was 71 inches tall. He had two very distinguishing external marks for any medical examiner: a torn bicep with no connection into his superior brachia, and a very visible scar across his shoulder from rotator cuff surgery. Internal distinguishing characteristics included black scars on his lungs from a bout of Valley Fever.
The original autopsy for Pat Tillman is as sloppy and rushed a medical document as I have ever seen, and I worked for a time in the medical field when I was in the Army, including writing “SOAP” notes. It is scribbled and over-brief. The coroner at the time, Commander Jim Caruso, was not overwhelmed with bodies. He was working in a facility adjacent to Dover Air Force Base in New Jersey.
Nor was the medical facility at FOB Salerno under attack at the time of the autopsy (one of the absurd claims to explain the conflicting reports about how Pat’s body was handled). The whole episode, from both sides of the Atlantic, reeks of shoddiness, given that the chain of command already knew this was a fratricide for which there would be an Article 15-6 investigation.
None of the above distinguishing characteristics of Pat’s body were recorded, and his height was incorrectly listed as 6’. His wedding band was described as gold, when in fact it was platinum. And there was the bizarre claim that he had been defibrillated… a man whose entire cranial contents had been avulsed (much of his brain was collected for recovery on the scene in an ammunition box). There were also subsequent claims that CPR had been performed on Pat at the field hospital; also preposterous, given that there was no intact bony structure on the back of his head to support the head for ventilation had anyone been inclined to make such a patently vain attempt on a man who was obviously dead. By the time Pat Tillman arrived at the hospital, he was cold, and the first signs of rigor mortis would have already been emerging.
When Pat’s mother questioned the medical examiners and field hospital personnel about this, their reply to her was “we are not usually criticized for trying to save lives.” The petulant arrogance of this reply to a grieving mother is symptomatic, if readers will forgive the medical allusion, of how the military performs to its stated standard of care for its families when careers may be at stake.
Hospital spokespersons (not yet identified) told Warrant Officer Dale Jefferies that the reason the work was so sloppy on the autopsy was that the field hospital was being fired upon. Archive searches for attacks on the field hospital at FOB Salerno that day yield not a single story to support this contention. In any case, an autopsy is not like an emergency room “code” where lives depend on finishing the task right now. Unless this hospital was under constant fire (it clearly was not), this does not in any way provide a viable excuse for such a recklessly substandard autopsy.
A Doctor Foley at the field hospital wrote that Pat had been taken to Intensive Care, a peculiar ward for the dead, instead of a morgue, which we might presume would be available in a hospital that claims to be under such combat duress. When confronted about the absurdity of this claim, he changed his story. Pat was taken to a “tent,” so other wounded troops wouldn’t see the grisly sight. The impression was to be that FOB Salerno’s field hospital was not unlike the field hospital in the Korean War dark-comedy film, MASH. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is a very well-appointed, modern facility, that even takes in large numbers of Afghan patients as a Civil Affairs/Propaganda exercise… which any Google search will show.
Moreover, chronicles of actions and casualties show that April-May, 2004 experienced a very significant lull in fighting and a remarkable drop in American KIA’s, Pat being the only one recorded nationwide in April.
One field hospital report states that Pat died on April 25th, three days after he was killed instantly. The autopsy says nothing abut wounds to Pat’s leg, yet one of the soldiers who handled Pat’s body stated that his fingers actually sank into a devastating leg wound, and another Ranger said the leg was “falling apart.” Staff Sergeant Weeks, who was positioned up the hill from Pat when he was killed, stated that Pat’s head was so destroyed that his face appeared to be a “flap of skin.” This description was confirmed by O’Neal, the Ranger who was close enough to touch Pat when he was killed. Yet a subsequent investigator who looked at photos told Mary Tillman that Pat’s face appeared “unscathed” except for the three bullet holes.
The fact is, there are so many contradictory accounts that one cannot reasonably speculate at this point about the sequence of events or motivations of those who participated in post-mortem activities. While plain incompetence and accident might account for some aspects, and the symbolically reconstructive (and therefore subjective) nature of human memory, conditioned in this instance by the shock of the incident, may explain some aspects of the post-mortem, it does not explain the arrogantly defensive and openly perfidious accounts of senior medical staff.
It also does not explain why Pat’s personal effects (which may have included his diary) were burned. Personal effects are, by policy at least, always returned to the families. The claim that his clothing and equipment was burned to prevent the bloody gear having a negative impact on morale is evasive bullshit, almost shocking in the impunity with which it insults the intelligence. Rangers, the Army’s own eat-your-dead elite shock infantry, falling apart at the sight of bloody clothes, which were, by the way, not in sight at all, but bagged up and stored in a shed prior to being burned. Of course, the aluminum oxide ceramic hard-plate in Pat’s body armor wasn’t burned (unless there was a very special furnace), but we have no idea where that went.
There is little doubt that the military can apply extreme pressure through the chain of command using the mechanism known by the sociologists of bureaucracy as “over-interpretation” and through plain veiled threats to one’s career and future. That also applies to military doctors.
There is little doubt that any M.D., questioned in the course of this or future investigations, will state that he was not influenced by any pressure from the chain of command on the Tillman case. To admit otherwise would be a violation of his oath as a doctor. And while by law, all courts owe defendants the presumption of innocence, there is no requirement that investigators operate from this standpoint, or no investigation of malfeasance would ever succeed. From this investigative standpoint, given the contradictory and obfuscating responses given by the M.D.’s in this case to all interrogatives, the overwhelming indication of a general cover-up, and my prior premise that pre-meditated murder by an institution is not a viable hypothesis, the only apparent hypothesis that remains to explain the conduct of the post-mortem and the evasive responses by the medical personnel is command pressure… probably multiple and possibly conflicting command pressures.
Military psychiatrists, themselves M.D.’s, have been routinely diagnosing post-traumatic stress disorder as “personality disorder” in Iraq and Afghanistan, even though the military has screened for personality disorders during induction. It is fairly obvious to anyone with a garage-sale clue that this is a policy, designed to inhibit the number of future claims of PTSD to be paid for by the V.A. Personality disorder has its ostensible origins in childhood, not military service, and cannot be claimed as service-connected, and to conceal the psychological costs to soldiers of Bush’s little adventures. Military personnel certainly do take command pressure into account, just as any of us do with our bosses unless we are independently wealthy.
Feigned outrage by the M.D.’s in Pat’s case (How dare you question my integrity?!) -- which is already predictable until someone acquires subpoena authority outside the military -- is not a defense. And of course, independent subpoena authority always seems to de-escalate these sand-in-the-eyes outbursts.
If any member of Congress finally decides to take this up, the subpoena is the puff of wind that will bring this whole house of cards down. Subpoenas make people get honest, because there is a scary little word attached to them -- perjury. If the Chief of Staff for the one of the three most powerful men in the United States can have his dreamspace invaded by the sound of slamming cell doors as a result of this little word, imagine what it can do to loosen the lips of some military members.
Subpoenas and blanket permission for Rangers to say what they want to the public about what happened? Right now, the members of the battalion we have talked to report that they are afraid. One told me on the phone that he can’t care for his family if he spends 30 years in prison… for what? Telling the truth?
There is a pending case against a Ranger from B Company, adjacent to A Company, wherein his attorney has discussed using issues from the Tillman case, related to allegations of cover-up, as evidence that may have a bearing on his case. As this is written, the Army’s prosecutors have filed a motion to suppress any reference to the Tillman case whatsoever. Given that the prosecutors haven’t a flea market clue what the specific evidence is, this motion to exclude is a form of “prior restraint” related to one incident. This strongly suggests that it is not the evidence they fear “as prejudicial” if presented to a court martial panel of experienced officers. What they fear is the Tillman case. More precisely, what they fear is allowing anyone with subpoena authority in an active court martial – anyone who has no interest in covering up the cover-up.
The reason it is important to pursue this matter, as it stands, with all the above caveats, is that neither the Bush administration nor the Pentagon wants the truth to come out. There are a couple of ways that the truth can be decisively kept below ground. The facts themselves can be altered, camouflaged, or disappeared. Or the people asking the questions can be “discredited” with the kinds of demagogic fallacies for which the public generally falls.
Key facts, as presented in this series, and which will be more thoroughly explored in a book early next year by Mary Tillman and Narda Zacchino, have already “escaped,” e.g., the Scott investigation and the fraudulence of awarding a Silver Star as part of a cover story. These facts are now, for the Administration and the Pentagon, inescapable. All that is missing right now is someone with a little integrity and courage, and subpoena authority, to use these facts to tear the rest of the mask away.
All that is required, however, to discredit those asking the questions is our own insistence on the least plausible scenario, no doubt inspired by a righteous mistrust and loathing of people like Donald Rumsfeld and Lawrence Di Rita, when the existing facts do not support that scenario.
There is nothing the Pentagon would rather do with this case, aside from making it evaporate, than turn it into a debate about whether Pat was assassinated or not. He wasn’t, and so they can not only poke fun at any of us who propose that hypothesis, they can relax as we all bark up the wrong tree.
What they do not want is a rigorous examination of the motives, decisions, and events that might lead a larger public to see how they have been spinning prevarications to call an imperial Oil War democracy-building.
Pat Tillman, and many who knew and cared for him, at some point believed, based on the evidence before them, that he was bound for a place in history of some kind… in football. What neither he nor they could know was that football fame would emerge as just a stepping stone to a far more significant role in history: contributing to the end of an illegal war, and bringing down (hopefully) a dangerous clique of international scofflaws.
The crimes of this Administration are more serious and vile by orders of magnitude than the mere imagined assassination of one young man.
The greatest crimes are facilitated not through arms (which are employed when other means fail, and which are as plentiful as they are odious), but by the banal wordsmiths of the legal, financial, and administrative realms. The war that Pat Tillman said was “so fucking illegal” is but one aspect, like a superficial lesion in a metastatic cancer, of a system that is now slaughtering millions through external debt, medical neglect, malnutrition, rape of the environment, imprisonment, mis-education, mass exodus, arms sales, and is now flirting with nuclear war. The Bush Administration has moved our whole society decisively into the final stage of imperialism: Exterminism, the acceptance of mass death as the price of doing business.
That Pat Tillman died wearing the uniform of the Imperium is just another historical irony. I wore it, too. It’s where some of us had to go to learn.
Pat Tillman, for his comparatively small size in football, was known as a fearless and devastating tackler. In his final moment, unbeknownst to him, he may have been participating in one of history’s greatest tackles… and one that will be witnessed by more people than could fit in a thousand stadiums.
Pat Tillman. Presente!
This is the final installment of The Tillman Files.