Tillman’s parents criticize general
WASHINGTON – The parents of slain U.S. Army Ranger and American football star Pat Tillman said Tuesday they have misgivings that the general who played a role in mischaracterizing their son’s death could be put in charge of military operations in Afghanistan.
In a brief interview with The Associated Press, Pat Tillman Sr. accused Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal of covering up the circumstances of the 2004 slaying.
“I do believe that guy participated in a falsified homicide investigation,” Tillman Sr. said.
Separately, Mary Tillman called it “imperative” that McChrystal’s record be carefully considered before he is confirmed.
Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said Defense Secretary Robert Gates has complete confidence in McChrystal, whom he hopes can be confirmed by the Senate before month’s end.
“We feel terrible for what the Tillman family went through, but this matter has been investigated thoroughly by the Pentagon, by the Congress, by outside experts, and all of them have come to the same conclusion: that there was no wrongdoing by Gen. McChrystal,” Morrell said.
Aides to the top Democrat and Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, which will consider the nomination, said they were unaware of any opposition to McChrystal.
Silver Star awarded
McChrystal, a former “black ops” special forces chief credited with capturing one of the most-wanted fugitives in Iraq, was tapped Monday to lead U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan. If confirmed by the Senate, he would replace Gen. David McKiernan, who was fired in an unusual wartime shake-up.
In April 2004, McChrystal approved paperwork awarding Tillman a Silver Star after he was reported killed by enemy fire, even though McChrystal suspected the Ranger had been killed accidentally by fellow American soldiers, according to Pentagon testimony later obtained by the AP.
The testimony showed that McChrystal sent a memo to top generals imploring “our nation’s leaders,” specifically the president, to avoid cribbing the “devastating enemy fire” explanation from the award citation for their speeches. In 2007, the Army overruled a Pentagon recommendation that McChrystal be held accountable for “misleading” actions.
In a book published last year, Mary Tillman accused McChrystal of helping create the false story line that she said “diminished Pat’s true actions.”
Her one-sentence e-mail to the AP on Tuesday said: “It is imperative that Lt. General McChrystal be scrutinized carefully during the Senate hearings.”
Last year, however, the Senate unanimously approved promoting McChrystal from a two-star general to a three-star general as director of the Pentagon’s Joint Staff.
Similarly, this time around, Senate Armed Services’ Democratic Chairman Carl Levin “does not foresee any problems with Gen. McChrystal’s confirmation” with the committee, a Levin aide said Tuesday.
Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the committee’s top Republican, backs the decision to change leadership in Afghanistan and will support McChrystal’s nomination, said Brooke Buchanan, a McCain spokeswoman. Tillman was a star member of the Arizona Cardinals National Football League team.
McCain was highly critical of the Army’s handling of the Tillman investigation, and in April 2007 he called the service’s actions “inexcusable and unconscionable.”
Justice Department drops appeal in Watada case
The U.S. Justice Department under the Obama administration has decided to drop its appeal of a federal judge’s ruling that 1st Lt. Ehren Watada cannot face a second court-martial resulting from his high-profile 2006 refusal to go to Iraq with his Fort Lewis brigade.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Wednesday granted the Justice Department’s request to drop its appeal of a federal judge’s earlier ruling that the second court-martial of 1st Lt. Ehren Watada on that count would represent double jeopardy and a violation of Watada’s constitutional rights.
This is the latest development in the long legal battle of Watada, whose 2006 decision not to join his Stryker brigade in Iraq turned the Hawaiian-born officer into a national symbol of the anti-war movement.
But Watada’s legal troubles may not be over.
He could still face a military tribunal for two other counts of conduct unbecoming an officer, according to a Fort Lewis spokesman.
Those counts were not thrown out by the federal court. They result from two interviews Watada gave in 2006, in which, among other comments, he attacked then-President George Bush for betraying the trust of the American people. He also said that Bush’s conduct made him ashamed to wear his Army uniform.
“At this point the leadership at Fort Lewis is considering a full range of judical and adminstrative options, which could range from court martial to adminstrative actions and discharge,” said Joe Piek, a Fort Lewis spokesman.
Watada’s first court martial, in February 2007, ended with a mistrial.
To block a second court martial, Watada’s attorneys sued in U.S. District Court. The unusual move left the U.S. Justice Department arguing the case on behalf of the Army.
In October, U.S. District Judge Benjamin Settle in Tacoma ruled that Watada could not be prosecuted again by the Army on charges of missing his deployment to Iraq. He also blocked court-martial for comments made in a news conference and while speaking at a Veterans for Peace national convention.
But Settle left open the possibility that the Army could retry Watada on the two counts of conduct unbecoming an officer.
The Army has consistently maintained that a second trial on all the counts would not be double jeopardy. In December, in the waning days of the Bush Administration, the Justice Department filed a notice of appeal that kept open the option of trying to overturn Settle’s ruling.
After a more lengthy review, the Justice Department in the Obama administration opted to withdraw that appeal. That decision was made by the department’s Office of Solicitor General, which determines what cases should be appealed, according to Emily Langlie, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorneys Office in Western Washington.
Through the course of this legal battle, Watada has been assigned a desk job at Fort Lewis. Eventually, he hopes to return to civilian life and attend law school, said Kenneth Kagan, one of Watada’s attorneys.
The 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division that left for Iraq without Watada was deployed for 15 months. The brigade returned to Fort Lewis and is preparing to serve again in Iraq later this year.
Hal Bernton: firstname.lastname@example.org.