The Army’s Shame

by Joshua Foust on 7/28/2007 · 4 comments

Like most people in this country, I was inspired by Pat Tillman’s story (a successful NFL player willingly gives up millions of dollars to enlist and go fight in Afghanistan), and was very saddened at his death. As details of his death emerged—killed by friendly fire, with three bullet wounds to the head—I was further saddened. Here was a brave and honorable man, who volunteered for his country and got killed for it. Only, we didn’t really know how he died at first, because the U.S. Army deliberately concealed is in favor of a fake, “going down firing” storyline. Tillman died while shouting on the radio for his own troops to cease firing on him; The Don Rumsfeld crooned on TV that he went down singlehandedly fighting off a Taliban advance or something. Tillman’s family, naturally, has been traumatized by the way their son’s memory was casually mutated into a pack of lies for an “inspiring” story.

Now the Army itself is handing down sanctions for the totally shameless and embarrassing way the brass handled the incident.

The Army secretary is expected to take the rare step of recommending a retired three-star general be demoted for misleading investigators probing the military’s handling of the 2004 death of Army Ranger Pat Tillman, Defense officials said Thursday.

The move by Army Secretary Preston “Pete” Geren would go beyond the punishment recommended by the military general assigned to review findings of a critical report earlier this year by the Pentagon inspector general. Defense officials said Geren believed the findings that retired Lt. Gen. Philip Kensinger, 60, misled investigators merited the harsher punishment.

Stripping a retired general of a star is an unusual move, and Army lawyers have been carefully reviewing the case. As a retired lieutenant general, Kensinger receives a retirement benefit of $9,400 a month. If demoted to major general, he would lose about $900 a month.

However, Kensinger and other officers will avoid criminal charges, facing only administrative punishment, officials said. Geren is expected to formally issue the recommendation next week. Army officials said Defense Secretary Robert Gates first has to approve Geren’s final recommendation.

So that’s it, then. A general shames his entire service and he looses a star and $10,000 in retirement. How… telling.

Update: It is interesting to compare coverage. The Tillman fallout, including deeply uncomfortable questions about the circumstances of his death, is oddly missing from the big right-winger websites (more here).

It sure would be nice if the super pro-military conservatives would offer an opinion on this, wouldn’t it? National Review hasn’t mentioned Pat Tillman since July 12, when Thomas Owens was complaining that sanctioning the officers in charge of lying about his death and covering up a possible crime was indefensible because you just don’t do some things in wartime… like, maybe, try to hold criminals accountable for their crimes. The Weekly Standard hasn’t mentioned Pat Tillman since May. The Instapundit (whom I honestly don’t mean to beat up on, but he’s big time), never shy to complain about “biased” war reporting and deliberately ignoring important stories, hasn’t mentioned Tillman since April. On major blog after major blog after major conservative news outlet, I’m looking for any posts about how sketchy this case is, and how much it has damaged the military. And on every single one of them, even ostensible “mainstream” publications like The Washington Times, there is silence. But, questions about the media’s role in supporting al-Qaeda by reporting atrocities in Iraq? Why, there are dozens of stories along those lines each week.

Isn’t a common complaint of the Right-o-sphere that the Liberal Media ignores stories it thinks are damaging to its cause? This isn’t idle speculation—these questions have been on NBC News, yet not on these centers of conservative thought. An honest thinker will examine facts or events that question his world view; this is missing from the shrill partisans who care more for scoring points “for America” than accomplishing anything useful—like arriving at the truth.

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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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Brian July 28, 2007 at 8:09 pm

I think it’s more than just the loss of a star, per se. Effectively it means the end of his career.

Joshua Foust July 28, 2007 at 9:52 pm

It would if he were still active. But the man retired, so this is basically shame and a few thousand dollars. Not that that isn’t punishment, for let’s compare with how the Marines handed Adam Kokesh, whom they similarly believed shamed the service by using his status as a Marine at anti-Iraq war events.

Army General Kensinger misled investigators about the death of one of the men in his command, and then deliberately lied about its circumstances to suit the political end of furthering support for the Global War on Terror. He was destarred and his retirement pension was docked, meaning he’ll have to get a consulting job (of which there are plenty to retired stars) to get back above a $100k salary.

After being honorably discharged from the Marines, Sergeant Adam Kokesh appeared at a few IVAW events protesting the war in Iraq, in which he served. He was reactived, sent from his home in Washington DC to Kansas City, and had to go on trial to see if the military could downgrade his discharge to Other Than Honorable, which would have invalidated all his VA benefits and he would have had to pay back nearly $10,000 in education benefits (luckily, a judge saw the absurdity of this, and said the military cannot prosecute the IRR for political speech). Even so, a panel (not coincidentally stacked with one of the officers involved in the original political campaign against him) recommended his discharge was downgraded from Honorable to General Under Honorable Circumstances, so he still faces a major reduction in benefits.

So: a General lies about the soldiers he commands who killed other soldiers under his comment to push a political agenda, and is given a slap on the wrist. A Sergeant has the temerity to oppose a war (granted, a different war), and they throw the book at him, and he’s barely escaping without serious consequences (consider the differences in age as well).

As I said, this is just shameful.

Brian July 30, 2007 at 1:20 pm

Didn’t notice that he’s already retired.
Yep… I agree with you.

Dave July 31, 2007 at 8:33 pm

I dont think that taking away his star is going to bring justice to Mr Tillmans death. The government is just trying to coverup their mess by blaming one man who did hide the truth. If the pentagon and bush’s government would just admit hey you know what we are not perfect we messed up and heres how we are going to fix it and make sure this never happens again

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