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Jessica Lynch, Tillman's brother accuses military of 'intentional falsehoods'
USA Today
By Tom Vanden Brook, USA TODAY
April 24, 2007

WASHINGTON — Former Army Pvt. Jessica Lynch and the brother of Pat Tillman castigated the U.S. government on Tuesday for lying to the American public to create heroes from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

They testified before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which is investigating inaccurate accounts of the battlefield actions of Lynch and Tillman.

Lynch was badly wounded in Iraq in 2003, in the early days of the war; Pat Tillman, a former NFL star and Army corporal, was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan in 2004.

Early versions of Lynch's capture and rescue, quoting unnamed U.S. officials, said Lynch fought her captors fiercely — "little girl Rambo," in her words. In truth she said she was wounded too badly to fight.

The narrative that described Tillman's actions, for which he was awarded the Silver Star, "was utter fiction," said Kevin Tillman who served in the Army with his brother.

Tillman was killed on April 22, 2004, after his Army Ranger comrades were ambushed in eastern Afghanistan. Rangers in a convoy trailing Tillman's group had just emerged from a canyon where they had been fired upon. They saw Tillman and mistakenly fired on him.

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 he was killed by friendly fire, a delay the Army has blamed on procedural mistakes.

Kevin Tillman accused the government Tuesday of "deliberate deception" to create a hero and divert attention from bad news in Iraq, particularly the Abu Ghraib prison scandal in Iraq.

"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," said Tillman, who was in a convoy behind his brother when the incident happened three years ago but didn't see it.

Tillman said his family tried for years to find out the truth about his brother's death, and have concluded they were "being actively thwarted by powers that are more interested in protecting a narrative than getting at the truth and seeing justice is served."

He said that after the real story began to emerge, Pat Tillman "was no longer useful as a sales asset and became only the Army's problem."

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.

Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., a member of the panel, said Tillman's regiment commander sent an urgent message on April 29, 2004, one week after Tillman's death, to the highest levels of the Army, including Gen. John Abizaid, the head of Central Command, saying it was "highly possible" that Tillman was killed by friendly fire.

The "eyes only" message expressed concern that the president was preparing speeches about Tillman's heroism and his newly approved Silver Star without knowing the specifics of his death and might suffer "public embarrassment" if the circumstances became public.

Cummings said the memo was sent one day after a White House speechwriter had called the military seeking information on Tillman's case for President Bush to use in an upcoming speech at the White House Correspondents Association dinner.

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.

Lynch, who said she still suffers bladder and kidney problems from her injuries and needs a brace to stand, told the committee that the American people are capable of defining their own heroes.

"They don't need to be told elaborate lies," she said.

Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., the chairman of the committee, said the hearing was intended to hold the government to account.

"The bare minimum we owe our soldiers and their families is the truth," Waxman said.

Rep. Tom Davis, the ranking Republican on the panel, and the lawmaker who first suggested the hearing, said evidence about Tillman's death had been destroyed and information indicating fratricide took place was ignored and possibly suppressed.

"The truth about Jessica Lynch and Patrick Tillman is heroic enough," Davis said. "There is no need to embellish it."

Also appearing at the hearing was Tillman's mother, Mary, Dr. Gene Bolles, the neurosurgeon who treated Lynch in Germany after she was rescued, and Spec. Bryan O'Neal, who was next to Tillman when he was killed.

Acting Defense Department Inspector General Thomas Gimble and Gen. Rodney Johnson, the head of the Army's Criminal Investigation Command — who both completed investigations last month on Tillman's death — were also scheduled to appear.

Contributing: Douglas Stanglin in McLean, Va.; The Associated Press

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