Bush Mired in Stealth, Lies and Cover-UpsBloomberg
By Margaret Carlson
April 26, 2007
April 26 (Bloomberg) -- The Bush administration will do, say and spend anything to maintain its façade of command and control.
To hear them tell it, the administration would be winning the war, if only those traitorous Democrats would stop pointing out that they aren't. Everything would be fine at Walter Reed Army Hospital and likewise New Orleans, if only the locals weren't wasting money. Those fired U.S. attorneys? Mishandled maybe, but they were properly let go ``for performance-related reasons.''
Two of the most disgraceful attempts to replace the truth with propaganda were brought to vivid light on Tuesday at a congressional inquiry into the death of Corporal Pat Tillman, killed by friendly fire in 2004, and the capture of Private Jessica Lynch.
In the interest of their own PR machine, which has spent more than a billion dollars on propaganda, the Pentagon shamed itself by lying about what really happened to these two heroic patriots, who need no government flackery to make them so.
Lynch -- the subject of a made-for-TV movie that followed the Pentagon line that she sprayed Iraqi soldiers with fire until she was captured in 2003 -- told a House committee that the ``story of the little girl Rambo from the hills who went down fighting'' wasn't true. And her military superiors knew it.
``I am still confused as to why they chose to lie and tried to make me a legend when the real heroics of my fellow soldiers that day were, in fact, legendary,'' she said.
Like the lies about Lynch, the ones concerning Tillman's death began immediately. On Tuesday, Specialist Bryan O'Neal testified that he knew at once that American troops had killed his buddy because he was with him. O'Neal's commander told him to keep his mouth shut or ``get in trouble.''
O'Neal also told the panel how the Army made up quotes from him about how Tillman had engaged the enemy to make the case for a posthumous Silver Star. The Army calls attributing eyewitness material to O'Neal an ``editing'' mistake.
What really happened that day slowly came out. Tillman's platoon had been split in two by his commander, Tillman's half crossing a canyon at twilight when it was hard to tell friend from foe and where communication with the other half was almost impossible. Although he repeatedly screamed ``cease fire,'' waved his arms and sent off a flare to identify his group, Tillman's efforts were interpreted by some as hostile acts and unnoticed by others.
Those others included his brother, Kevin, who had enlisted with him. Hundreds of rounds were fired from machine guns. Three Americans were wounded. Tillman was killed.
Even as the country mourned Tillman's death, the brass was busily covering up how it happened. The House committee got a copy of a memo sent by a top special operations commander, Major General Stanley McChrystal, to other high-ranking officials the week of the incident, alerting them that Tillman's death was due to friendly fire and to pass the information on to President George W. Bush.
The Pentagon made it through the most important event, the nationally televised service for Tillman. By then, Washington had received McChrystal's memo warning officials not to embarrass themselves by saying anything about the cause of death.
Bush was careful not to. While he has rarely observed the death of any particular soldier, he spoke then of Tillman as ``an inspiration on and off the football field, as with all who made the ultimate sacrifice in the war on terror.''
The Tillmans weren't so easily fooled. When, according to the Washington Post, Bush offered to tape a memorial to her son for an Arizona Cardinals football game that would be televised shortly before Election Day, Mary Tillman said no.
It would be another month before the family got an inkling of the truth and years before the extent of the lying emerged, if all of it has. At Tuesday's hearing, Kevin Tillman said the family didn't believe the cover-up stopped at the generals.
``It's a bit disingenuous to think that the administration did not know about what was going on, something so politically sensitive,'' he said.
The day before the hearing, in an interview on NPR, Mary Tillman remarked that the administration certainly noticed when her son joined up -- former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld sent her a note -- and may have been in on the cover-up.
``Ultimately, I would like to trace where the orders to do a lot of these things came from,'' she said. ``Who gave the orders to burn Pat's uniform? Who was the one who instigated the Silver Star?''
She said the administration didn't make ``a misstep'' but made up a story and presented it on television ``to promote the war.''
Even as they have to admit more and more of what they first denied, Pentagon officials say there was ``nothing criminal'' in what transpired and ``no broad cover-up.'' Is that an admission that the involvement of nine officers, four of them generals, constitutes a narrow cover-up?
Lies like the ones told in the Lynch and Tillman cases aren't blurted out in the heat of the moment, but require planning and an understanding by mid-level officials that forces higher than themselves want them to lie.
For the lie to work, those mid-level officials have to pull rank on those below to play along. One of those was Specialist Russell Baer, who was told to escort Pat's brother home but not to tell him how his brother died. Baer later went AWOL in protest and was demoted. Where's the honor in that?
Dana Perino, Bush's deputy press secretary, had the mildest reaction to Tuesday's testimony. She said the president is ``pleased that the Department of Defense has taken it upon themselves to investigate it,'' ignoring that they were forced to investigate and then reinvestigate as previous probes proved flawed.
Perino also said the president ``hopes that people are held to account.'' Bush has yet to acknowledge that the military put out a tale that wasn't true about a tragedy that was.
Mary Tillman is still asking for answers. It's not too late for Bush to hold himself to account and provide them.
(Margaret Carlson, author of ``Anyone Can Grow Up: How George Bush and I Made It to the White House'' and former White House correspondent for Time magazine, is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are her own.)
To contact the writer of this column: Margaret Carlson in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org