Amid reports that the Army withheld information and destroyed evidence related to the death in Afghanistan of former Army Ranger and Arizona Cardinals football player Pat Tillman, MSNBC host-to-be Tucker Carlson said: "I doubt anybody holds it against the Pentagon for not releasing that." In fact, both Tillman's family and members of Congress have expressed concern about the military's slow release of information regarding Tillman's death.
A new Army report documented that the Army investigator who looked into Tillman's death "found within days that he was killed by his fellow Rangers in an act of 'gross negligence,' but Army officials decided not to inform Tillman's family or the public until weeks after a nationally televised memorial service" [The Washington Post, 5/4/05]. The report also stated that evidence in the case was destroyed: Tillman's "uniform and body armor were burned a day after he was killed -- and before investigators had determined he was shot by his fellow soldiers" [CNN, 5/5/05].
Contrary to Carlson's suggestion, Tillman's family has expressed concern that details of Tillman's death were concealed. The Army investigation "was done at the behest of Tillman's family members, who wanted to know why his uniform was burned, and why they were not immediately told he might have been killed by fellow soldiers" [CNN]. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) commented that "nothing has contributed more to an atmosphere of suspicion by the family than the failure to tell the family that Cpl. Pat Tillman's death was the result of suspected friendly fire, as soon as that information became known within military channels" [The Washington Post].
Members of Congress from Arizona have also expressed dismay over the recent report. Republican Rep. J.D. Hayworth said that "[t]he Army should have leveled with the family and the nation" and that their silence "only led to months of uncertainty and needless additional pain and suffering for the Tillman family." Democratic Rep. Ed Pastor observed: "This is part of a pattern of the military not being truthful to the American people when dealing with high-profile situations with a lot of publicity" [The Arizona Republic, 5/5/05].
From the May 4 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews:
MATTHEWS: I wonder what real people who have suffered loss, Tucker, feel about these decisions. Do you think they feel that the government was being kind or being deceitful? Which emotion do you think they would have toward learning now that Pat Tillman was clearly a victim of friendly fire and that was known by his buddies on the front there?
CARLSON: Right. Well, it is an example of deceit. It was deceitful. But I think it's also understandable. It's a human response. I mean, you want every fallen soldier to be recorded as a hero. And the common definition of hero is, you know, someone who is killed by the enemy in pursuit of victory against the enemy. And it's just so depressing. You can understand from a human perspective why his superiors, people at the Pentagon, wouldn't want that information to get out.
It did get out, though. And I think that's important to note. We know the truth. I don't know. I think it's understandable. I doubt anybody holds it against the Pentagon for not releasing that. I think everyone understands it intuitively.