WASHINGTON – The Defense Department is investigating allegations of an Army cover-up in the 2004 shooting death in Afghanistan of Cpl. Pat Tillman — separate from an Army criminal investigation of the death.
The department's inspector general is looking at the cover-up allegation and other related issues, including failure by the Army to tell Tillman's family for several weeks that he was killed by gunfire from his fellow Army Rangers, not by enemy fire as they initially were told.
Gary Comerford, spokesman for the Defense Department's inspector general, said Monday the Army and the Tillman family were notified last Friday that a review of three previous Army investigations of the shooting death — none of which were criminal probes — "found things that should have been looked at."
The spokesman would not elaborate, but other officials said the inspector general concluded that the earlier Army investigations had produced enough evidence to merit probing possible charges of negligent homicide. The officials would discuss the matter only on condition of anonymity because the probe has not yet begun.
Three other U.S. soldiers were wounded in the gunfight, which happened April 22, 2004, near the Pakistan border. It was not clear Monday whether the circumstances of those woundings would be included in the Army criminal investigation.
Aside from the death investigation, which will be done by the Army's Criminal Investigation Command, the Defense Department inspector general is "looking into other issues raised by the Tillman family and by some members of Congress," Comerford said. "It's not like this is over. This is still an ongoing issue here."
He said it would be contrary to inspector general policy to provide more details, but the other officials said the "other issues" include allegations of a cover-up and the Army's failure to notify Tillman's parents before his nationally televised memorial service in May 2004 that he was not killed by enemy fire.
The Army has publicly acknowledged that it erred by not telling the family earlier that Tillman was killed by fellow soldiers.
Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Sunday that while there is no evidence as yet of a crime in the shooting death, Army investigators will want to find out if any of Tillman's fellow soldiers were "firing a weapon when they should not have been."
Tillman's parents have been outspoken critics of the Army's handling of the shooting death. They have accused Army officials of lying, concealing relevant facts and failing to adequately punish the soldiers involved in the shooting. Because of the family's objections, the Army last August asked the inspector general to review its initial investigations.
Some of Tillman's fellow soldiers were given administrative punishment, including one for dereliction of duty for failing to supervise and control the gunfire that was directed at Tillman during what the soldiers thought was a gunfight with enemy forces.
Tillman, who played defensive back for the Arizona Cardinals of the National Football League, joined the Army Rangers after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. His enlistment drew wide attention because of the lucrative NFL contract he gave up to join the Army.