WASHINGTON - Nine high- ranking Army officers, including four generals, made critical errors in reporting the friendly fire death of Army Ranger Pat Tillman in Afghanistan, but there was no criminal wrongdoing in the shooting of the former NFL player, the military concluded Monday.
In releasing a pair of reports on the 2004 killing, however, defense officials did not rule out that criminal violations may have been committed by officers who provided misleading information as the military investigated the killing. While saying they believed there was no orchestrated cover-up, they left the decision on whether crimes occurred to the Army.
Army and Defense Department investigators said officers looking into Tillman's death passed along misleading and inaccurate information and delayed reporting their belief that Tillman was killed by fellow Rangers.
The investigators recommended that the Army take action against the officers, but suggested no specific punishments and left it to the Army to decide what to do. Possible steps could include demotions, dishonorable discharges, jail or letters of reprimand.
Acting Army Secretary Peter Geren has asked Gen. William Wallace, who oversees training for the Army, to review the actions of the officers and to provide a progress report in 30 days. The Army will take corrective action and hold people accountable, said Geren, who also issued an apology.
"We as an Army failed in our duty to the Tillman family, the duty we owe to all the families of our fallen soldiers: Give them the truth, the best we know it, as fast as we can," Geren told reporters at the Pentagon. "Our failure in fulfilling this duty brought discredit to the Army and compounded the grief suffered by the Tillman family. For that, on behalf of the Army, I apologize to the Tillman family."
Using photographs, charts and a video reenactment of the day's events, investigators at the Pentagon walked reporters through a minute-by-minute accounting of Tillman's death in the rocky Afghanistan hills on April 22, 2004.
The sometimes gruesome briefing described Tillman's frantic efforts to signal the shooters to stop the firing. Brig. Gen. Rodney L. Johnson of the Army Criminal Investigation Command said the investigation found no basis to believe the shooting was criminal.
"We determined that neither a negligent homicide or aggravated assault occurred in the shooting deaths and woundings of Corporal Tillman and the others," Johnson said. "The manner of death was accidental." An Afghan fighter with him was killed and two other U.S. soldiers were wounded.
Though dozens of soldiers knew quickly that Tillman had been killed by his fellow troops, the Army said initially that he was killed by enemy gunfire when he led his team to help another group of ambushed soldiers. It was five weeks before his family was told the truth, a delay the Army has blamed on procedural mistakes.
"We thought there was never an attempt to cover up that we saw," Defense Department Acting Inspector General Thomas F. Gimble said during a Pentagon briefing as the military released two reports, one by the Army Criminal Investigation Command and the other by the inspector general.
Tillman's death received worldwide attention because he had walked away from a huge contract with the National Football League's Arizona Cardinals to enlist in the Army after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The reports' release comes as the Bush administration is under widespread fire for its handling of the war in Iraq, though the conflict in Afghanistan has been more broadly supported.