In late April, a US House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held hearings into the source of misleading information about the supposed rescue of Jessica Lynch and the death of Patrick Tillman.
Do you remember Jessica Lynch? Lynch was the object of much US flag-waving and chest-thumping in 2003, after she was (supposedly) rescued by a team of US Special Ops soldiers from an Iraqi hospital where she was (supposedly) being held prisoner. Americans were told that Lynch, a 19-year-old clerk, had stumbled into an attack during routine convoy travel, and bravely fought back against her attackers as her unit was surrounded and her comrades were killed and injured.
Too bad for the creators of that fiction that when Lynch returned to the US - after she recuperated from broken arm and leg bones, kidney damage, and a head wound - she spoke out about what really happened.
She never fired a shot, and the Iraqi hospital was caring for her, not imprisoning her. There was no need to stage the dramatic, Rambo-style rescue: the US could have just knocked on the door. When Iraqi nurses tried to return Lynch to the Americans, the nurses were fired upon by the US, and had to retreat back to the hospital.
What's more, Lynch testified that US could have "rescued" her from the hospital a day earlier, but they were too busy organizing camera crews and other details, so they could film the staged rescue as a documentary.
Lynch's testimony is here, and excerpts from a Newsweek interview about her experience is here.
These days Lynch says she no longer feels used and exploited by the military, but she did for a long time. She's says she's not political, but chose to testify to help the Tillman family learn the truth about what happened to their son and brother.
Tillman's story is far sadder, because he is not around to tell it.
Patrick Tillman was a professional football player who gave up a lucrative career in the NFL when he volunteered to go to Afghanistan after 9/11. He joined the company in which his brother Kevin was already fighting, and Kevin was nearby when Pat was killed. The cover-up began immediately.
The facts about Tillman's death were concealed from the Tillman family, and replaced by a heroic fictional tale. In reality, Tillman was mistakenly killed by US forces, in that offensive Orwellian euphemism, "friendly fire".
Although Tillman was killed in April 2004, his family was not told what really happened until the end of May. In the intervening weeks, the military continued to say that Tillman died under enemy fire, and even awarded him the Silver Star for heroic battlefield action.
Tillman's family has spoken publicly about being lied to and exploited by the US government, about the cover-up, and about both George W Bush's and Donald Rumsfeld's complicity in their pain.
For weeks after his death, the Pentagon maintained that Pat Tillman was killed in an enemy ambush, even after a top general tried to warn President Bush that the NFL star-turned-soldier likely died by friendly fire, a memo obtained by the Associated Press shows.
Saturday, Tillman's mother, Mary Tillman, said the newly disclosed document demonstrates Bush was complicit in deceiving her family.
"He knew it was friendly fire in the very beginning, and he never intervened to help, and he essentially has covered up a crime in order to promote the war," Mary Tillman said. "All of this was done for PR purposes."
During the Congressional hearing into the disinformation surrounding Tillman's death, Kevin Tillman spoke publicly about Pat's death for the first time. He broke his three-year silence to testify that military's heroic recounting of his brother's death was "pure fiction": "We appeal to this committee because we believe this narrative was intended to deceive the family, but more importantly, to deceive the American public."
Sometimes an ordinary news story can be very moving. If you're interested in this, I recommend reading this AP/CBS story.
Tillman's Fellow Ranger Admits Cover-Up
An Army Ranger who was with Pat Tillman when the former football star was cut down by friendly fire in Afghanistan said Tuesday a commanding officer had ordered him to keep quiet about what happened.
The military at first portrayed Tillman's death as the result of heroic combat with the enemy. Army Spc. Bryan O'Neal told a congressional hearing that when he got the chance to talk to Tillman's brother, who had been in a nearby convoy on the fateful day, "I was ordered not to tell him what happened."
"You were ordered not to tell him?" repeated Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
"Roger that, sir," replied O'Neal, dressed in his Army uniform.
The revelation came as committee members questioned whether, and when, top Defense officials and the White House knew that Tillman's death in eastern Afghanistan three years ago was actually a result of gunfire from fellow U.S. soldiers.
Tillman's death received worldwide attention because he had walked away from a huge contract with the NFL's Arizona Cardinals to enlist in the Army after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
His family was initially misled by the Pentagon and did not learn the truth for more than a month. Tillman was awarded a Silver Star based on fabricated accounts — who fabricated them still isn't clear after several investigations.
"We don't know what the secretary of defense knew, we don't know what the White House knew," Waxman said. "What we do know is these were not a series of accidents, these stories. They were calculatedly put out for a public relations purpose. ... Even now there seems to be a cover-up."
Kevin Tillman was in a convoy behind his older brother, a former NFL star, on April 22, 2004, when Pat Tillman was mistakenly shot by other Army Rangers who had just emerged from a canyon where they'd been fired upon. Kevin Tillman didn't see what happened. O'Neal said he was ordered not to tell him by then-Lt. Col. Jeff Bailey, the battalion commander who oversaw Tillman's platoon.
"He basically just said, Sir, that uh, 'Do not let Kevin know, he's probably in a bad place knowing that his brother's dead,"' O'Neal testified. "He made it known that I would get in trouble, sir, if I spoke with Kevin."
O'Neal said he was "quite appalled" by the order.
Bailey's superior officer, then-Col. James C. Nixon, has testified to the Defense Department's inspector general that he ordered that information on the facts of Tillman's death be shared with as few people as possible so that the Tillman family would not learn those facts through news media leaks. That, in turn, shaped Bailey's guidance to his troops.
The Army said initially that Tillman was killed by enemy gunfire while trying to help another group of ambushed soldiers. The family was not told what really happened until May 29, 2004, a delay the Army blamed on procedural mistakes.
Kevin Tillman and Tillman's mother, Mary Tillman, also testified Tuesday but were not in the room when O'Neal spoke.
After the hearing, Mary Tillman approached O'Neal, introduced herself, embraced him and sobbed.
Kevin Tillman, in his testimony, accused the military of "intentional falsehoods" and "deliberate and careful misrepresentations" in the portrayal of his brother's death.
"Revealing that Pat's death was a fratricide would have been yet another political disaster in a month of political disasters ... so the truth needed to be suppressed," the brother said.
"Our family will never be satisfied. We'll never have Pat back," Mary Tillman testified. "Something really awful happened. It's your job to find out what happened to him. That's really important."
Last month the military concluded in a pair of reports that nine high-ranking Army officers, including four generals, made critical errors in reporting Tillman's death but that there was no criminal wrongdoing in his shooting — a conclusion the family has disputed. The Army is reviewing the actions of the officers.
The committee also heard Tuesday from Jessica Lynch, the former Army private who was badly injured when her convoy was ambushed in Iraq in 2003. She was later rescued by American troops from an Iraqi hospital, but the tale of her ambush was changed into a story of heroism on her part.
Still hampered by her injuries, Lynch walked slowly to the witness table and took a seat alongside Tillman's family members.
"The bottom line is the American people are capable of determining their own ideals of heroes and they don't need to be told elaborate lies," Lynch said.
People are always telling me I shouldn't be surprised, and I'm always replying: I'm not. I'm not shocked or even mildly surprised by anything that spews from the maw of the US war propaganda machine. But when we have proof of what we believe to be true - when our beliefs are confirmed by verifiable facts - we should share that information.
More on Pat Tillman and the Congressional Hearings: video of Mary Tillman, Pat's mother, interviewed by Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann, and Robert Scheer on Truthdig, "The Pentagon Cowers Behind Wordplay".
Thanks, as usual, to my researcher-in-chief for gathering the links.