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Friday, December 1, 2023

Hearings begin on Tillman’s death, Lynch’s ‘rescue’

042407tilllman.jpgAs the Army probed Pat Tillman's death, investigators implored the CIA and Pentagon last year to scour their databanks for aerial video of the friendly fire incident, footage they believed might have been captured as a Predator drone flew over the scene.


042407tilllman.jpgAs the Army probed Pat Tillman's death, investigators implored the CIA and Pentagon last year to scour their databanks for aerial video of the friendly fire incident, footage they believed might have been captured as a Predator drone flew over the scene.

The trail ran cold in October, but lawmakers plan to press the Pentagon on Tuesday with questions still hovering over the one-time National Football League star's shooting: Was a drone flying overhead when Tillman (left) was killed? Did it videotape the incident, and if so, where is the footage?

Some members of Congress hope to elicit the new information Tuesday when the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform holds a hearing as part of an investigation into misleading information from the U.S. military.

The most recent investigation by the Army, released last month, documented a monthslong search for the video. The undertaking "suggests the distinct possibility that a Predator drone overflew the battle scene, and, if it did, may have captured yet-unrevealed material information," said Daniel Kohns, a spokesman for Rep. Mike Honda, a Democrat who represents the San Jose, Calif., area where Tillman grew up.

"Representative Honda intends to question Pentagon and Army officials on this issue and, at long last, elicit definitive answers to this and other questions that inexcusably continue to linger over this matter," Kohns said.

The hearing will cover both Tillman's death three years ago and the 2003 rescue of Pfc. Jessica Lynch in Iraq — a story embellished by the military after her videotaped rescue by special forces.

For the hearing, the committee issued its first subpoena since Democrats took power and Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., assumed the chairmanship in January. The target of the subpoena was Dr. Gene Bolles, the neurosurgeon who treated Lynch in Germany after she was rescued in Iraq.

Bolles will be a witness Tuesday, as will Lynch. Also testifying will be Tillman's mother; his brother Kevin, who was nearby when Pat Tillman was killed; and Spc. 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 — also will appear.

The drone, equipped with a video camera in its nose, had been flown by the CIA over Afghanistan in search of Osama bin Laden for several years. After Sept. 11, 2001, the little plane also was outfitted with missiles and used to kill al-Qaida leaders.

An Air Force commando attached to Tillman's Army Ranger platoon testified that as the incident unfolded, he heard the unmanned reconnaissance plane's distinctive propellor buzz overhead.

"I remember hearing an aircraft that I initially suspected was a C-130 but as I listened closer I knew it was a Predator drone," he told Army investigators.

His belief was later confirmed by a comrade at their tactical operations center, he said. "I was told it was over us during the ambush," this airman testified. His name was blacked out of documents the Army released last month.

The Air Force commando was something of an expert in aircraft sounds. As an "enlisted terminal attack controller," his job was to call in and then direct "close air support" or aircraft that could fire on the enemy in the kind of ambush that preceded Tillman's death.

Moments after hearing that attack on his fellow Army Rangers, the airman radioed a command center and requested air cover. No attack aircraft arrived to help.

His recollection of the Predator was enough to spark a search for any video the drone might have gathered. That search spanned six months, took investigators close to the highest reaches of the Pentagon and touched upon some of the most sensitive technology the United States possesses.

In September, Army security officials directed that investigators' memos seeking Predator footage be classified "SECRET/NOFORN," meaning no foreigners would be permitted to see the memos.

Special agents for the Army Criminal Investigation Command and the Defense Department inspector general's office spent much of last summer trying to track down the video — or determine whether it existed. Among other agencies, the agents reached out to "Psychological Operations, the Pentagon … regarding the Predator footage which was taken during the Tillman incident."

A former U.S. commander in Afghanistan told investigators that "the chances of footage being taken at the incident location during that time frame is minimal."

Still, the investigators met with Lt. Gen. William G. Boykin, the Pentagon's deputy undersecretary for intelligence, who said "he would coordinate with the Central Intelligence Agency and ensure a review for the requested imagery is conducted."

In October, however, the conclusive results came back from Navy Vice Admiral Eric T. Olson, deputy commander of the Special Operations Command: No video of the friendly fire episode was "known or suspected to exist."

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.



Copyright © 2007 The Associated Press

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