WASHINGTON – Military officers knew a day after Army Ranger Pat Tillman was killed in Afghanistan that the former NFL player’s death was probably caused by friendly fire, but before revealing the truth they led Tillman’s family to believe for more than a month that he was shot by Afghan insurgents.
According to a Pentagon inspector general’s report issued Monday, nine officers, from battlefield commanders to a three-star general, were aware of the friendly fire incident even when Tillman was publicly awarded a Silver Star that posthumously commended him for valor in the face of an enemy attack.
The report will be reviewed by an Army general who will be empowered to recommend punishment for the officers, including court martial.
The most serious accusations in the inspector general’s report are those against Lt. Gen. Philip R. Kensinger Jr., then-commander of the Army’s Special Operations units.
The report said Kensinger had learned the likely cause of death two days after Tillman was killed, but had told investigators that he learned about it on the eve of Tillman’s memorial service more than a week later.
The false statements, the report notes, are a possible offense under the military’s criminal code. Now retired, Kensinger could be called back to active duty for a court martial proceeding.
Nevertheless, citing the Army’s investigation beginning the day after Tillman’s death, the inspector general found no evidence of an orchestrated cover-up.
Tillman, who gave up a multimillion-dollar contract with the Arizona Cardinals to join the Army Rangers after the 2001 terrorist attacks, was long seen as a recruiting coup for the Army, one that the service cited repeatedly in the months after his decision to enlist.
The death of such a high-profile recruit in a friendly fire incident was a blow to the Army, and it has struggled to explain to Tillman’s family and to critics why it took so long to reveal how he died.
The report found that misleading statements were entered into Tillman’s Silver Star commendation and recommended that the Army review the award.
Acting Army Secretary Pete Geren said the service had completed a review of the medal and said the Army Decorations Board would change the wording of the commendation but had decided against rescinding the award.