When the Arizona Cardinals take the field tomorrow, the most famous Cardinal will not be with them.
I speak, of course, of Corporal Pat Tillman, who left the NFL after 9/11 to serve in the Army Rangers. Tillman was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan on April 22, 2004. For months after his death, he was used as a propaganda tool to glorify Bush’s failed wars. The exposure of the truth behind Tillman’s death has since turned him into a symbol of the duplicity of the Bush Administration, the fight for the truth, and the futility of the war itself.
Shortly after his death, the Bush Administration (already campaigning for the ’04 election) pointed to his sacrifice. Karl Rove waxed, "How does our country continue to produce men and women like this." On May 1, 2004, Bush again focused on Tillman’s sacrifice in a speech at the White House Correspondent’s dinner.
The loss of Army Corporal Pat Tillman last week in Afghanistan brought home the sorrow that comes with every loss, and reminds us of the character of the men and women who serve on our behalf. Friends say that this young man saw the images of September the 11th, and seeing that evil, he felt called to defend America. He set aside a career in athletics and many things the world counts important: wealth and security and the acclaim of the crowds. He chose, instead, the rigors of Ranger training and the fellowship of soldiers and the hard duty in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Corporate Tillman asked for no special attention. He was modest because he knew there were many like him, making their own sacrifices. They fill the ranks of the Armed Forces. Every day, somewhere, they do brave and good things without notice. Their courage is usually seen only by their comrades, by those who long to be free, and by the enemy. They’re willing to give up their lives, and when one is lost, a whole world of hopes and possibilities is lost with them.
This evening, we think of the families who grieve, and the families that wait on a loved one’s safe return. We count ourselves lucky that this new generation of Americans is as brave and decent as any before it. (Applause.) And we honor with pride and wonder the men and women who carry the flag and the cause of the United States.
Not only did Bush invoke 9/11 in his statements in spite of DOD insistence that there was no support for such a statement, but he neglected to mention that DOD had already determined that Tillman was killed by friendly fire, a heroic but pointless sacrifice that perhaps better embodies the stupidity of Bush’s wars.
As Tillman’s brother Kevin testified:
April 2004 was turning into the deadliest month to date in the war in Iraq. The dual rebellions in Najaf and Fallujah handed the U.S. forces their first tactical defeat as American commanders essentially surrendered Fallujah to members of Iraq resistance, and the administration was forced to accede to Ayatollah Sistani’s demand for January elections in exchange for assistance in extricating U.S. forces from its battle with the Mahdi Militia. A call-up of 20,000 additional troops was ordered, and another 20,000 troops had their tours of duty extended.
In the midst of this, the White House learned that Christian Parenti, Seymour Hersh and other journalists were about to reveal a shocking scandal involving mass and systemic detainee abuse at the facility known as Abu Ghraib.
Then on April 22, 2004, my brother, Pat, was killed in a firefight in eastern Afghanistan. Immediately after Pat’s death, our family was told that he was shot in the head by the enemy in a fierce firefight outside a narrow canyon.
In the days leading up to Pat’s memorial service, media accounts based on information provided by the Army and the White House were wreathed in a patriotic glow and became more dramatic in tone. A terrible tragedy that might have further undermined support for the war in Iraq was transformed into an inspirational message that served instead to support the Nation’s foreign policy wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
There was one small problem with the narrative, however. It was utter fiction. The content of the multiple investigations revealed a series of contradictions that strongly suggest deliberate and careful misrepresentations.
We appeal to this committee because we believe this narrative was intended to deceive the family but more importantly to deceive the American public.
Revealing that Pat’s death was a fratricide would have been yet another political disaster during a month already swollen with political disasters and a brutal truth that the American public would undoubtedly find unacceptable. So the facts needed to be suppressed.
An alternative narrative had to be constructed. Crucial evidence was destroyed including Pat’s uniform, equipment and notebook. The autopsy was not done according to regulation, and a field hospital report was falsified.
This freshly manufactured narrative was then distributed to the American public, and we believe the strategy had the intended effect. It shifted the focus from the grotesque torture at Abu Ghraib and a downward spiral of an illegal act of aggression to a great American who died a hero’s death.
I raise Tillman today because, as his mother Mary pointed out in an interview last spring, no one has yet been held accountable for turning Tillman’s death into a propaganda fiction.
And there is just—the bottom line is, no one has been held accountable for anything. There have been people that have had some slaps on the wrist for doing certain things, but—and some people have just been scapegoated.
I would like someone to be held accountable. I’d like for them to discover and try to discover who was involved with this cover-up. It’s a horrible thing that they did. And I think that if people don’t see that, it’s very sad, because it means that we have been numbed to all the lies and deceptions that we’ve been faced with during these last eight years.
Tomorrow there will be other heroes wearing red–undoubtedly Spidey Fitzgerald, maybe, if he can elude Pittsburgh’s blitzes, Kurt Warner. And, I suppose, it’s appropriate that we get a fresh face like Fitzgerald to represent Arizona this year. It’s a new year, a new President, there’s much talk of looking forward.
But we should never forget the heroism and fight for truth that Pat Tillman has come to represent.