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Family cites 'conspiracy' in Tillman death inquiry

Story Highlights

• Family will seek congressional investigation
• 9 officers face corrective action for mishandling aftermath of Tillman's death
• No cover-up found, but initial reports on Tillman's death were inadequate
• Family wasn't notified of circumstances of friendly fire death for over a month
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The family of Cpl. Pat Tillman said Monday investigations into the former NFL player's death by friendly fire in Afghanistan suggests a "conspiracy" and vowed to pursue a congressional investigation into how the death was handled.

Military officials had said earlier that nine officers, including four generals, will face "corrective action" for making critical mistakes in the aftermath of Tillman's death.

The NFL player was killed in Afghanistan in 2004 after giving up a professional football career to fight as an Army Ranger.

In their statement, the Tillman family said they were not satisfied with the Pentagon's report.

"In our opinion, this attempt to impose closure by slapping the wrists of a few officers and enlisted men is just another bureaucratic entrenchment," the family statement said. "Once again, we are being used as props in a Pentagon public relations exercise."

The family statement also charged that the decision to award Tillman the Silver Star "appears more than anything to be part of a cynical design to conceal the real events from the family and the public, while exploiting the death of our beloved Pat as a recruitment poster."

Investigations by the Army's Criminal Investigations Division and the Defense Department's inspector general concluded officers in Tillman's chain of command knew almost immediately after his death that he had been killed by friendly fire from his own platoon, but that information was withheld from his family for more than a month, in violation of Army regulations.

Results of the investigations, released Monday, concluded that while there had been no attempt by officers to conceal the circumstances of Tillman's death, inadequate initial investigations "contributed to the inaccuracies, misunderstandings and perceptions of concealment."

Also, documentation used to award Tillman a posthumous Silver Star included statements from witnesses that "were drafted by others and also contained inaccurate information" implying he died from enemy fire, said Thomas Gimble, the Army's acting inspector general, who released findings of the investigations at a news conference Monday.

The criteria for earning a Silver Star includes heroic action under enemy fire, and the investigation concluded Tillman had not been under enemy fire on the day he died.

The Tillman family noted that while the Army reported "improprieties in the submission of the award, they appear to have intentionally stopped short in every single 'misstep' of actual criminal actions. Submitting fraudulent awards is a crime. More than one person participating in the construction of a fraudulent award is conspiracy."

Acting Army Secretary Pete Geren apologized to Tillman's family for the delay in letting them know about the circumstances of his death.

"We as an Army failed in our duty to the Tillman family, the duty we owe to all families of our fallen soldiers -- give them the truth, the best we know it, as fast as we can," he said.

Geren said he has referred results of the investigations to Gen. Scott Wallace, commander of the Army Training and Doctrine Command, who will decide whether to take disciplinary action against the nine officers involved.

In 2002, Tillman, a safety with the Arizona Cardinals, became a patriotic icon after turning down a multimillion dollar contract and instead joining the Army, which he said was a response to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

He died on April 22, 2004, during a firefight in a remote area near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, after members of his own platoon mistook him and an Afghan army soldier for enemy combatants. The platoon had been split in two to take care of a disabled vehicle, and they had trouble communicating with each other in the mountainous area, according to the investigative report released Monday.

Tillman's death has been ruled an accident because the squad leader who initiated the fatal gunfire on Tillman's position "honestly and reasonably believed he was under fire," said Brig. Gen. Rodney Johnson of the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command.

"A reasonable soldier would have concluded he was under fire and acted as he did," Johnson said.

However, after "clear evidence of fratricide" emerged on the day after Tillman's death, his battalion and regimental commanders decided to appoint a subordinate Army captain to investigate, even though they were required to notify U.S. Central Command to convene a legal investigation into a friendly fire death, Gimble said.

The initial investigation concluded Tillman died from friendly fire, but the regimental commander thought it had not been thorough enough and ordered a second investigation, which came to the same conclusion, Gimble said.

Both of those investigations were "deficient" because the investigating officers did not visit the scene and failed to interview relevant witnesses, Gimble said.

"As a result, the first two investigations lacked credibility and contributed to the perceptions that Army officials purposely withheld key information," he said.

In November 2004, a third investigation was ordered, led by the commander of the Army's Special Operations Command. While Gimble said this inquiry was more thorough than the first two, relevant witnesses were not interviewed and the investigation "did not assess the accountability for the chain of command's failure to comply with requirements."

Tillman's family did not learn he had been killed by friendly fire until 35 days after his death because his regimental commander decided to keep the information "on close hold," Gimble said.

The general who represented the Army at Tillman's memorial service, Lt. Gen. Phillip Kensinger, head of the Army Special Operations Command, knew at the time that friendly fire was suspected but "decided not to tell the family until all the facts concerning this incident could be verified," Gimble said.

"We found no reasonable explanation for this failure to comply with regulations," he said.

The four generals cited in the report were Kensinger, who retired in February 2006; Brig. Gen. James Nixon of the U.S. Special Operations Command at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida; Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander of the Joint Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg, North Carolina; and Brig. Gen. Gary Jones, former chief of staff of the Army Special Operations Command, who retired in October 2005.

The five officers below the rank of general were not identified by name.

CNN's Jaime McIntyre and Mike Mount contributed to this report.


Nine officers will be disciplined for critical mistakes in aftermath of Army Ranger Pat Tillman's death.



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