U.S. Army friendly fire report stays secret

The U.S. Army said yesterday that at the family's request, it will not make public a new report on Corporal Pat Tillman's 2004 death in Afghanistan that confirmed the former professional football player was killed by friendly fire.

Les Brownlee, then acting secretary of the U.S. Army, ordered a fresh investigation in November, in response to questions Cpl. Tillman's family raised about his death in southeastern Afghanistan on April 22, 2004.

Investigators visited the scene of the incident and interviewed soldiers involved before wrapping up more than four months of work in March, said Colonel Joe Curtin, an Army spokesman at the Pentagon.

"There was no change to the original findings. The matter's closed," Col. Curtin said. "It has concluded it was a fratricide." The full report will not be released, he added.

The terms friendly fire and fratricide are used by the U.S. military to describe an accidental or mistaken attack on one's own forces or allies.

Cpl. Tillman's mother had accused the military of burning her son's uniform to try to hide the circumstances of his death, and his father had said the initial investigation was a lie.

Specialist Jeff Coyne is another victim of friendly fire. His artillery unit was attacked in 2003 by a U.S. plane and a laser-guided 225-kilogram bomb. Three soldiers were killed and five wounded, including Specialist Coyne.

A reconstruction of that April 3 bombing from interviews and military documents, including an investigation report obtained by The New York Times that was released to families of the dead but not to the wounded, shows that a chain of errors, poor judgment and miscommunication by U.S. forces stationed in three countries contributed to the botched attack.

Specialist Coyne, now retired from the military, received a Purple Heart for his injury. But he says that at the award ceremony at Fort Sill, Okla., his superiors instructed him to keep quiet about his suspicions that U.S. forces had bombed him.

In the case of Cpl. Tillman, Col. Curtin said the Army was not trying to cover up or hide anything by not releasing the new report, and added that Cpl. Tillman's family had asked it not be made public.

Cpl. Tillman played for four years in the National Football League but walked away from a $3.6-million contract with the Arizona Cardinals to sign up as a U.S. Army Ranger.

Initial official statements by the Army, even ones released after investigators had received sworn statements about friendly fire, indicate that Cpl. Tillman had been killed by enemy fire when his convoy was ambushed by insurgents.

After the completion of the initial investigation, U.S. Central Command issued a statement on May 29, 2004, saying Cpl. Tillman "died as a probable result of friendly fire while his unit was engaged in combat with enemy forces."

Army Rangers opened fire on comrades after a series of missteps and miscommunications, the initial investigation found.

No one has faced criminal charges over the incident.

By WILL DUNHAM Saturday, April 16, 2005 Updated at 1:01 PM EDT Reuters News Service
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