Panel will look into claims about Lynch, Tillman

Associated Press
Thursday April 12, 2007

A U.S. House committee announced it would hold hearings on misleading military statements that followed the friendly fire death of Pat Tillman in Afghanistan and the rescue of Pfc. Jessica Lynch in Iraq.
The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform said an April 24 hearing would be part of its investigation into whether there was a strategy to mislead the public.

"The truth, the truth, this is only a search for the truth,'' House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Tuesday at a news conference in San Francisco. "It's about holding this administration accountable for the message that it sends out. ... It's about reality.''

Word of the hearings comes two weeks after the Pentagon released the findings of its own investigations into Tillman's death, and three years after he was killed.

The committee has been quietly investigating the case since then and decided to add Lynch to the scope of its probe. It will "examine why inaccurate accounts of these two incidents were disseminated, the sources and motivations for the accounts, and whether the appropriate administration officials have been held accountable,'' the panel said on its Web site.

One or more members of the Tillman family will probably testify, the committee said. Tillman's mother and father did not immediately return calls for comment Tuesday.

Lynch's spokeswoman, Aly Goodwin Gregg, said Lynch also will testify. "She was very interested in doing so. She's used every opportunity to tell what really happened and to talk about the real heroes of that day,'' Gregg said.

Tillman's family has said the previous probes were inadequate and did not sufficiently address the role of then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld in hiding from them for five weeks the true circumstances of the former NFL player's death. The Army publicly maintained during that time that Tillman had been killed by enemy fire, when in fact dozens of officers knew his fellow Rangers shot him after a chaotic ambush.

Tillman's death received worldwide attention because he had walked away from a huge contract with the National Football League's Arizona Cardinals to enlist in the Army after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Lynch, a 21-year-old former Army supply clerk who now lives in Parkersburg, W.Va, became one of the most visible faces of the war when she was rescued from an Iraqi hospital after being captured by Iraqi forces April 1, 2003. Eleven U.S. soldiers were killed where her convoy was attacked, and six, including Lynch, were captured.

Her videotaped rescue by special forces branded Lynch a hero at a time the U.S. war effort seemed bogged down. It also stirred complaints of government media manipulation.

It wasn't clear if the committee planned to call officials with knowledge of the cases to testify during the hearing, titled "Misleading Information from the Battlefield.''

The committee, run by Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., a frequent Bush administration critic, has launched several investigations since Democrats took power in Congress in January. It has not issued subpoenas in any of its probes, including one into the administration's claims that Iraq sought uranium from Niger and another into contacts between lobbyist Jack Abramoff and the White House.

The House Armed Services Committee also is considering Tillman hearings, a spokeswoman for that panel said Monday.

"I think it's very important to find out why mistaken, erroneous, false information was provided concerning this tragic death, both to the family and to the American people,'' said Rep. Tom Lantos, D-Calif., the No. 2-ranking member of the oversight committee behind Waxman.

In all, the Army and Defense Department have conducted five investigations into Tillman's April 22, 2004 death, with the most recent one pointing toward high-ranking military officers knowing the circumstances of his death long before Tillman's family.

"After successive failed Department of Defense and Army inquiries, only a comprehensive, unrelenting congressional investigation can do justice to Pat's memory, and restore service members' confidence in their chain of command,'' said Rep. Mike Honda, a Democrat who represents the Tillman family's San Jose district. "I will not rest until the unvarnished truth -- no matter where it leads -- is brought to light.''

One top-ranking officer, then-Maj. General Stanley McChrystal, tried to warn President Bush a week after Tillman's death to avoid repeating in speeches the official Army line: that Tillman had been killed by enemy forces. McChrystal knew an investigation would probably conclude it was friendly fire, according to internal Pentagon memos obtained by The Associated Press.

The White House says Bush never got the message from McChrystal, who still heads military special operations. But Gen. John Abizaid, chief of Central Command at the time, did get the information before Tillman's family.

"The deception surrounding this case was an insult to the family,'' Tillman's relatives said in a news release after the Pentagon's findings were disclosed March 26, "but more importantly, its primary purpose was to deceive a whole nation.

"Perhaps subpoenas are necessary to elicit candor and accuracy from the military,'' they said.

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