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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Pushing for the truth

The Spokesman-Review

The following editorial appeared in the San Jose Mercury News on Friday.

The wheels of justice have turned too slowly in the case of Pat Tillman, San Jose football star turned patriotic icon. Earlier this month, more than three years after his death by friendly fire in Afghanistan, military sources say some top-ranking brass will be disciplined for covering up what happened.

That’s not enough for Tillman’s parents, who have led the quest for truth in their son’s tragic death. And it should not alter the course of the congressional investigation aimed at bringing out the facts. Without the persistence of civilian investigators, we’ll never know if the impenetrable U.S. military has placed blame where it belongs and not just on scapegoats.

Among the reported disciplinary actions is the demotion of a since-retired three-star general. This is the man who told investigators some 70 times that he had a bad memory and couldn’t recall details of his actions. Demotion sounds right. But who else was culpable?

Tillman became a national hero the moment he gave up a lucrative professional football contract to enlist in the Army after Sept. 11, 2001. He got his wish to fight terrorists in the hills of Afghanistan. The fact that American bullets, not enemy fire, claimed his life does not diminish his courage.

But for five weeks, the Army covered up how he had died, telling Tillman’s family and the thousands who grieved with them that it was from enemy fire. The facts, as they’ve been dragged out, have been devastating.

This week the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will hold another hearing into Tillman’s death. The chairman, Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Los Angeles, has accused the Pentagon of thwarting its work by refusing to turn over e-mails and memos that might disclose what top generals and officials in the White House knew about Tillman’s death. Waxman wants former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Richard Myers, among others, to testify.

Friendly fire claims casualties in every war. Sometimes it’s because of negligence, but often it’s a matter of split-second misjudgments in the heat of combat. Tillman’s family suspects that in his case, the military may know more than it’s been willing to say.

Friendly-fire deaths alone will not destroy faith in our armed forces. But lying will. Congress must push on with its inquiry until the truth is known.

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