Sunday, July 29, 2007

Pat Tillman: Death and Conspiracy

Welcome Protein Wisdom and Blackfive visitors

A commenter at Blackfive left a link to the last investigation into Pat Tillman's death by the United States Army. Once can only speculate as to why the media has yet to read this entire document and put a more definitive story out, at least regarding the testimony, instead of dropping little pieces of the interviews and investigation like stinking cow patties in the barnyard. Apparently, no one can be bothered to read the entire investigation documents and watch the videos which can be found here: US Army Criminal Investigation Command Report of Investigation Regarding
Cpl Patrick Tillman huge PDF File, 2nd huge PDF File and Video. All names are redacted, though some of the information is probably available by simple googling.

You will not learn the shooters name. The video is not explosive. It is simply long views of the same location from different directions with similar lighting as experienced on the evening of April 22, 2004 when Cpl Pat Tillman was killed in a friendly fire accident. I say that very confidently even though I have only read approximately 100 pages (six interviews of those involved in the shooting, various maps and diagrams). The reader, of course, should always be willing to draw their own conclusions. So far, the complete story appears like this:

On the morning of April 22, 2004 2/75th Ranger (2nd Platoon of the 75th Rangers) was tasked to go to Tit[update: not Manah; manah is where they stop for the broken GMV], Afghanistan near the Pakistan Border to clear the village. So far in the interviews, including an officer at the TOC (Tactical Command), no one knows exactly what they were looking for at the village besides clearing it. No one knows of any specific intelligence that indicates a High Value Target or targets. It may have, in fact, been a simple clearing mission [update: intelligence indicated possible 100 fighters crossing the Pakistan border to attack BCPs - border crossing points- manned by AMF; the town of Tit, AF either had a leader, coordinating persons or possible rest stop for fighters].

The platoon was being led by a ranger who had been previously deployed in Iraq for the invasion. He believes that he was well trained, but admits that his actual combat experience was limited. He says that it amounts to having a few rounds fired in his direction and a grenade land nearby.

On or about 10 AM, one of the HMMVWW broke down. The PLT (Platoon) proceeded together for a few more hours towing the broken vehicle. However, the vehicle was in such bad shape that the steering mechanism no longer worked. Unable to steer the very heavy vehicle made the vehicle towing it dangerous to maneuver as well. The Platoon stopped in another village and called the TOC advising them that they could not continue towing the vehicle. The PLT leader asks to have a "sling load" (helicopter with a lifting device) or tow truck come in to remove the vehicle. TOC informs him that it would take 2 days to get the sling load up to them and that a tow vehicle could not leave the "flat top" (nearby hardened road) to retrieve the vehicle. TOC tells the PLT leader that he will have to bring the vehicle to the flat top and the tow will take it from there.

The PLT leader gives the TOC three options on how he can accomplish that mission:

1) He can split the platoon in two, sending half with the vehicle and half to the objective
2) The entire platoon can accompany the vehicle to the flat top and then continue to the objective
3) The entire platoon and towed vehicle will continue to the objective.

At sometime during this discussion, a local Afghan man approaches and says that he has a "jingha" truck (highly decorated cargo Afghan cargo trucks) that he will use to tow the vehicle for a price. [if any of this is starting to sound like a bad movie, you aren't alone; Custer comes to mind sans overwhelming force of Indians] It is unclear why the PLT leader suggests option one since he and many in his platoon indicate that option 1, splitting the platoon, is a rare action. Yet, the officer from the TOC reminds everyone that much smaller elements, down to squad size, have performed many missions. The officer at the TOC confers with the Bn Cdr (Battalion Commander) who gives the go ahead to split the platoon with half of the platoon accompanying the broken down vehicle (from here forward refered to as "serial 2"). The PLT leader verifies twice this is the action that they are to take both verbally and electronic mail.

Multiple failures as well as simple bad luck begins to effect the platoon as soon as this decision is made. No one checks the "comms" or communications. Serial 1 (the section that Cpl Pat Tillman is with), the half of the PLT that is moving to the objective, has the PLT Leader and a Sattelite Radio. Serial 2, accompanying the towed vehicle, may or may not have such a radio. Upon discussion with the TOC regarding this condition, the TOC tells the PLT leader that, yes, in fact, Serial 2 does have such a radio because they have the commander's HMMVW. Based on the interviews, no one actually checked to see if that was so and if the radios communicated. In other words, no "comm check" before the elements split up.

The leaders of the two groups confer over a map discussing the route to the "hard top" where they will meet with the unit that will tow the broken vehicle back to base. The decide what route that serial 1 will take to the objective. The discuss what route the serial 2 will use to join up with the serial 1 after dropping the vehicle. They depart with the jingha truck driver towing the vehicle.

During this adventure, both serial 1 and serial 2 change routes in progress. The jingha truck driver tells the leader of serial 2 that the path they chose was too steep and his truck would not be able to make it towing the HMMVW. Serial 2 contacts the TOC and tells them they are changing route. No one contacts Serial 1. During the movement to the objective, the PLT leader with serial 1 makes a navigational mistake and turns his group heading back towards the route that Serial 2 is now on.

Serial 2's route has set them up for a classic ambush. The wadi or canyon is approximately 10 meters or 30 feet wide (approximately the width of the average ranch style family home). The walls are steep and the direction of the setting sun prevents easy identification of enemy positions above them on the ridgeline. Several RPGs [update: further review indicates mortars] are fired at their position. None make contact with the vehicles in the convoy. Men tumble out of the vehicles and seek cover, looking for the enemy, but the steep walls and lighting prevent positive identification.

IN the meantime, the element Pat Tillman was with, serial 1, hears the explosions from the RPGs and turns to find out what is happening. They dismount and move to positions. The PLT leader can hear serial 2 but can't communicate. The communications he does hear are confusing. He directs his section towards the estimated position of Serial 2.

Leader of Serial 2 realizes they are in a bad position and orders his men to "drive out" of the ambush. This includes some men driving vehicles and others dismounted going through the canyon. No one in Serial 2 can see the ambushers. They only see the explosions and hear the gun fire.

[This graphic has been updated to show the correct orientation of the death scene with serial 2 traveling east and Tillman's position to the north pg 1210]

Serial 1 sees enemy forces silhouettes up on the ridge line above the wadi and sets up firing positions along a second escarpment opposite of the wadi and near the mouth where the road serial 2 is on turns in front of serial 1's position. Three members of Serial 1 take positions part way up the hill behind a berm. Pat Tillman, O'neal and an Afghani military force (AMF) take a position on a small spur on the rise behind some large rocks. The PLT leader and another unnamed member take position at the corner of a house on the rise. Other members are equally spread out. They begin firing at the enemy on the ridge.

Serial 2 begins driving out of the wadi. The first HMMVW sees what they believe is enemy forces now on the other side of them and begin firing into those positions. The PLT leader and the man with him take fire and attempt to move to the other side of the house. The second man has a radio and is trying to contact TOC to alert them to their position. The PLT leader is hit in the face by a piece of shrapnel from a round that strikes the house and the radio man is also struck. Neither of them can see what is happening after that.

The M240B (which fires a 5.52 round; important fact to the investigation [uptade: per Capt. JM Heinrichs, the M240B fires 7.62mm round. The ME reports either 5.52mm or 7.62 at high velocity made the wounds]) operator on the back of the first HMMVW in serial 2 exiting the wadi sees an Afghan man with an AK-47, camouflage pants, a purple jacket and a beard on the opposite rise and begins firing. This is the AMF that is in Pat Tillman's position. The AMF is firing into enemy positions on the opposite ridge above serial 2's exit. The M240B gunner affirms later that he is the one that fired at the AMF [update: squad leader in GMV says he uses optics and fires at least six shots at the same man]. O'neal, who was with Tillman, states that they were receiving fire from serial 2. At the same time, the men behind the berm and down from Tillman's position are receiving "walking" fire and one of them gets out a pen gun flare to signal serial 2 that they are "friendlies". Tillman and O'neal have a brief discussion which may or may not have included profanities. Tillman decides to puff smoke to alert serial 2 that they are friendlies.

[This section updated with O'neal's testimony from Page 428] Tillman rises out of his position to throw the smoke grenade, firing pauses for a moment (this is because GMV1 has reoriented fire on the house). Tillman and O'Neal stand up and exchange a few words thinking the danger has passed. They begin receiving fire again. The AMF is killed. O'Neal drops prone on the ground after receiving ricochet fragments and rounds into his RBA (Ranger Body Armor) and striking a magazine on his vest. Tillman also drops to the ground in a prone position on his back. (O'Neal says he believes Tillman was wounded at this time; Tillman had a wound in his left forearm; fragments retrieved were later found consistent with a damaged flashbang in his vest). Tillman is laying on an incline of approximately 45 degrees (see Trajectory). Tillman raises his
insert bold tagsTorso from the ground and yells, "What are you shooting at?! I'm Pat F***ing Tillman. Several rounds strike the rock to his front right sending pieces of rock into his clothes, face and arms. One round pierces his flashlight on his M4 exiting and smashing the top, right corner of his SAPI. Three rounds penetrate his head in a close grouping. O'Neal thought he heard running water and asked Tillman if he had "p*****d" himself. He received no response. The firing had ceased. He looked over and saw blood running from under Tillman's head. He grabbed Tillman by his armor and pulled him up (probably why the sergeant found him in a half sitting position with his head slumped over).

A member of serial 2 states that he saw the smoke and believed that one of his unit was trying to lay down cover for maneuvering so he also threw smoke. At that time, someone from serial 1 (Tillman's section) was yelling, "Cease fire!" The squad leader from serial 2 also began to yell, "Cease fire!"

All fire ceases. The entire fire fight has lasted less than 5 minutes [update: this is an estimation based on the details. no one offers up a time line yet]. A member of serial 2 begins checking the situation. He hears someone yelling that they have casualties. When he reaches Tillman's position, he finds the AMF laying with his head pointed down hill. Tillman is in a sitting position with his legs in front of him. He is slumped forward with his torso leaning against a rock that was partially to the rear and left of his position. According to this member statements, he found O'neal holding on to Tillman's arm and possibly trying to talk to him. He states he could see that Tillman's "head was missing". [based on later statements and the ME report, a large portion of the back of Tillman's skull was missing when his body arrived at Dover]. He states that O'neal said, "Your guys shot him. One of your guys shot him!" He told O'neal to get his weapon and secure the position.

A member of serial 2 arrived on the scene, discovering that Tillman was dead and conferred with the remaining member of Serial 1, both indicating that they felt this was probably fratricide.

PLT leader with Serial 1 retrieved the radio and called in the situation to TOC. He called in a nine line requesting medevac for himself and his radio man. He was told that there were two friendlies KIA by the squad leader. He called back to TOC and requested a second medevac for the KIA.

TOC informs 1st Platoon and 3rd Platoon of the situation and they move out to make contact with 2nd Platoon.

Two body bags were brought up and Tillman and the AMF were placed inside along with whatever gear and personal effects could be found in the immediate vicinity. The wounded and the KIA were medevac'd separately to the FOB.

3rd Platoon arrived and took control of the security. Several members of 2PLT indicate they believe this was a friendly fire incident. Because it is dark, 3PLT leader decides to secure the area and wait for morning. Everyone beds down for the night. The next morning, 3PLT leader called together the remaining members of 2 PLT to discuss what had happened. They concurred that it was a friendly fire incident. 3PLT leader walked to the different locations indicated by 2PLT and took pictures of the area and looking out towards the positions involved. He sends a squad to the ridge line above the wadi where Serial 2 believes they were being fired on from the enemy and where serial 1 says they saw silhouettes and muzzle flashes. No one can find any trace of the enemy.

After arriving at Tillman's position and taking pictures, he finds part of Tillman's missing skull and places it in an Ammo can to be sent back to the FOB and eventually catch up with Tillman's remains. [this is not just a gruesome detail; but central to the investigation and concerns of conspiracy to cover up]. 3PLT leader calls TOC and notifies them that he believes this was a case of fratricide and requests an investigation be opened.

It is the morning of April 23, 2004.

Part II: Is there a conspiracy?

There are several problems that arise during the fire fight and after that seem contradictory or abnormal. Most of which have explanations that simply do not fit expectations of a criminal investigation, though, that alone does not implicate them in a conspiracy.

The story of Pat Tillman's death resulting from enemy fire was not due to an original conspiracy to cover it up, but appears to be the result of time, space and communications. As far as the TOC knew the night of April 22, 2004, 2nd Platoon had come into contact with the enemy and it had resulted in two wounded and two KIA. 2PLT leader was injured and medevaced but had no idea that his platoon members or 3PLT believed that there was fratricide.

It was this first report that began to filter up and out. It's continuation for several days appears to be simply the result of time and distance.

In the next piece, I'll discuss the other issues that have been contrived into a conspiracy to cover up Pat Tillman's cause of death. It should be remembered, as we go forward, that Tillman's family was told by his best friend that Tillman was killed in a friendly fire incident while the command indicated that they were still investigating the incident.

However, based on the first part of the investigation and subsequent testimony regarding that evening, it seems safe to declare that there was no known conspiracy to kill Cpl Pat Tillman. His death was a matter of existential circumstances and possible inexperienced leaders and members of his platoon.

One thing is certain, the media and many others could have taken a little time to read the investigation and providing better information than throwing out pieces and statements to sensationalize what is already a fairly sensational story.

Stay tuned for the rest of the story...

Part II: Conspiracy and Death-Trajectory

Pat Tillman: Death and Conspiracy - The Press at it's Best

Pat Tillman: Death and Conspiracy Part III - Cycle of Disinformation

Pat Tillman: Death and Conspiracy Part IV - Withholding Information

Cross posted at the Castle


Gray said...

Imho this is the weakest part of your thoughtful recount of the tragedy:
"As Tillman rises out of his position to throw the smoke grenade, possibly yelling that he is "Pat (expletive) Tillman", he is fired on multiple times."

Well, excuse me pls, I never had much combat training, not to speak of war experience, but since then is it SOP to get out of a sheltered position to throw a simple smoke grenade, which isn't supposed to be targeted too carefully? Is this really the method used by rangers? There's a lot of smearing going on in regaqrd to Pat Tillman, but was he really the dumbest ranger of all to mess up the simple deliverance of a smoke grenade? Doesn't make any sense to me.

Kat said...

Sorry, that is what the eyewitnesses say happened. I am not making up the story. In fact, he was in a very limited coverage area and did sit up/rise up to throw the smoke.

Is that dumb or brave? If he hadn't, would the other team still have been firing and possibly injuring people?

Plenty of people do "dumb" things that save people's lives.