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July 26, 2007

Comments

That's so horrible. I just scared Mrs. R and the baby by yelling at the screen.

rilkefan: I know. That was more or less my reaction when I saw the Post story. I so completely hope that all the information comes out and turns out to show that he was shot by -- well, I'd really like the Taliban, or maybe even Martians, but at least by accidental friendly fire.

What possible justification is there for the White House to have been involved in the investigation in any way?

It could be that Tillman was murdered, deliberately, by a member of his own squad.

If so, that would not be the first, only, or last time that has occured, or will occur. Things like that have happened, on every side, in every war ever fought.

The only reason it comes to our attention in this case is because Tillman was such a notable guy.

War is the deliberate loosing of havoc and mayhem. It messes people up. Some of them don't respond well. There's nothing anyone will ever be able to do to make that not so. It's part of what war is.

That is why anyone who talks about war as if it was just another card to play in games of diplomatic poker should be treated as if they have lost their grounding in reality. Because they have.

I've shared this before, but I'll share it again. It seems appropriate.

The father of a good friend of my wife and I served in Europe in WWII. He's now in his later 80's. He still has nightmares -- violent nightmares, in which he thrashes, yells, and cries in his sleep -- about his time there.

That was over 60 years ago.

He'll always have those nightmares, until he dies. Who knows, maybe he'll take them with him beyond the grave.

He's a lovely, brilliant, accomplished, charming, well adjusted guy. You'd love to meet him. And, he is still exorcising events of 60 years ago. He's one guy of millions, and that was the "good" war.

War messes people up.

All of the above said, I hope for the sake of the Tillmans that this turns out to be not so.

Thanks -

They're going to executive privilege themselves right into an impeachment hearing if they're not careful.

Can someone clear up my confusion? If one of Tillman's fellow soldiers purposefully killed him, why would the Army rush to cover it up? I can see how the Army wouldn't like to advertise Tillman's death by friendly fire, but I don't get how they could let his killers go scott free. I mean, doesn't the Army as an instituion rely really heavily on that whole "no fratricide" rule?

Am I missing something here? Because this makes very little sense to me. Mind you, I'm not doubting the possibility at all...

What possible justification is there for the White House to have been involved in the investigation in any way?

I agree. This makes no sense at all. Cover-up or no, accidental or friendly fire, I cannot for the life of me fathom how this could possibly implicate executive privilege -- nothing reaches past the level of a three-star general, let alone to the White House.

None of the information released today remotely intimates a friendly fire incident. It all suggests an execution of Pat Tillman by u.s. soldiers. Jesus Christ people, wake up.

I read the part about three closely-spaced bullet holes in the forehead and 10 yards and was filled with horror.

On reflection, and having read this article describing the incident, I'm inclined to be skeptical that Tillman was fragged. And I'm certainly not going to draw any conclusions until I hear from people with combat experience.

The cover-up looks even more culpable regardless.

Why did they burn his diary?

"Why did they burn his diary?"

Sports hero/volunteer Ranger, killed by friendly fire in an incident where the troops walked into an ambush after a request to avoid the dangerous situation was overruled - plus he was known to be vocally against GSAVE? Of course they burned the diary, even if it wasn't filled with comments about how Private So-and-so reaches for the safety whenever he sees me. One can only imagine the political impact of his widow reading his private denuciation of the War on Terra at his service.

Surely all but the westernmost lawyers have gone to bed, but maybe later today someone could venture an opinion -- was that legal? Does the Army have the right to dispose of your personal possessions as it sees fit if you're not around to fight it?

I figured they'd killed him the minute I learned they'd burned the diary. Withholding it until things died down, well after the funeral, sure. Burning it? Hmmm...

Was the diary on his person? If so the excuse would be it was blood-stained and a biohazard. I can imagine that there are regulations about preserving evidence in friendly fire incidents - I would however guess violation of that protocol would be the only prosecutable crime in the destruction of the diary, assuming Tillman wasn't murdered and the diary burned for that reason.

It would be fascinating if, of all the things that have been going wrong for the last 6+ years, it was the Pat Tillman incident that finally led to somebody getting impeached.

I wouldn't bet on that, yet, but this assertion of executive privilege really smells funny -- much more so than when it's over White House documents.

I hope this is accidental "friendly fire": the alternative is horrible.

But it is also extremely odd that the White House are claiming executive privilege. As adam noted upthread, even assuming the worst - Pat Tillman was murdered by his squad and the Army decided that this shouldn't be known and the murderer(s) should go unpunished - how could this implicate the White House? That's an honest question: nasty as this mess is, unlike Abu Ghraib, there doesn't seem to be any good reason to suppose it extends from the Pentagon to the White House - except that the White House are claiming executive privilege.

If the worst is true, then one reason for the cover-up would be the same motivation that leads pro-war bloggers to attack testimony from soldiers such as Hilzoy wrote about in "Shock Troops". Would this alone be enough to motivate the White House to get involved in the cover-up? They are the ultimate pro-war bloggers.

But claiming executive privilege is a big red flag asking for investigation. Of course, the Bush administration may honestly believe that it doesn't matter whose suspicions are aroused, what red flags they put up, because their experience is that they can get away with anything. Or it may not have occurred to them that anyone would care. Or they may actually be covering up something that someone in the Bush administration did. What could that be?

"The three-star general who kept the truth about Tillman's death from his family and the public told investigators some 70 times that he had a bad memory and couldn't recall details of his actions."

I read things like this, and I honestly wonder: If you ask somebody about something, and they say they don't remember, and then you ask them another 69 times, is it really all that damning that they continue to say they don't remember? It's nothing specific to this case, I've just got a general problem with this style of implying something is fishy. Probably due to having this 3 year chunk of my life that's essentially blank...

If you ask somebody about something, and they say they don't remember, and then you ask them another 69 times, is it really all that damning that they continue to say they don't remember?

Because it is usually the case that it is not the same question 70 times, but a range of questions that are answered the same way. cf. Gonzales

known to be vocally against GSAVE

I think he was against the Iraq war, more specifically, and was, IIRC, very critical of dear leader.

And note that, in the context of a criminal investigation, executive privilege claims go out the window, IIRC.

They may have burned his diary because it contained harsh criticism of the Bush administration. Tillman held Bush in the lowest regard.

It needn't have been his entire squad against him. One man, one weapon, three bullets. As for the cover-up and the inclusion of the White House, it may not have been clear -- at least, not up the line -- in the first few hours, exactly what had happened. So, immediate headlines: NFL star killed fighting for his country. Rove (or someone like him) sees a chance to capitalize, sets the hero machine in motion. Suddenly, some elements of the truth leak their way up the line. Rove (or a reasonable facsimile thereof) sends word back down the line that the WH believes the initial story and does not want to deal with any information to the contrary.

Three shots to the forehead at close range? Even if it wasn't intentional in the real world that's negligent homicide.

Just to clear up any confusion:

http://www.au.af.mil/au/awc/systems/dvic534.htm

The rifle in "automatic" fires bursts of three shots. So we're almost certainly talking *ONE* trigger pull, not several independent shots. Normal jitter would place them in a close formation at that sort of range.

Brett - yeah, that's what I was thinking, only way to do it from 10 yards cause by the time you pulled the trigger the third time you couldn't have hit the forehead due to the first two shots (even two times would be difficult, if not impossible).

I do wonder how they know it was 10 yards, but I suppose they're pretty good at that sort of thing.

And I'm certainly not going to draw any conclusions until I hear from people with combat experience.

I can’t provide that (no combat experience) but I’m certainly familiar with the M16 in general and can discuss that: possibly though it will just muddy the waters even more.

The rifle in "automatic" fires bursts of three shots. So we're almost certainly talking *ONE* trigger pull, not several independent shots.

Close, but not quite.

First, it would be helpful if the AP would make their source documents available. This is a point of confusion:

it appeared the Army Ranger was cut down by an M-16 fired from a mere 10 yards or so away.

I’m guessing the Army medical examiners might have said something more like “M-16 rounds” or something similar. The reason is that Rangers use the M4 Carbine as their personal weapon. In fact, as with other special operations units, they use the M4A1 rather than the M4, and this too becomes important.

The M4 is essentially just a shorter lighter version of the M16. It fires the same 5.56 mm NATO round. I’m fairly sure that the medical examiners could not in fact say with any confidence that he “was cut down by an M-16”. It would have been an M4A1. The difference is important.

This is the best previous article on the incident that I’m familiar with.

Sgt. Greg Baker, a young and slightly built Ranger nearing the end of his enlistment, commanded the heaviest-armed vehicle in Serial 2, just behind the jinga tow truck. Baker's men wielded the .50-caliber machine gun, plus an M-240B machine gun, an M-249 squad automatic weapon and three M-4 carbines.

Serial 2 is where the friendly fire was to come from. The weapons load mentioned is standard for Rangers. No M-16.

So why does all that matter? It has to do with the three round burst that apparently killed him.

The M16 A2/A3/A4 has a semi-automatic mode and a three round burst mode – no full automatic. The Army found that in terms of accuracy and conserving ammunition a three round burst was most effective.

The M4A1 used by Special Forces has a full auto mode – it does not have a three round burst mode.

Now let me complicate this even more. My experience was with the M16A1. Like the M4A1, that version of the M16 had full auto and no three round burst mode. But even then the Army knew that three round bursts were most effective. (Essentially, after the first three rounds the weapon’s muzzle has climbed and you are off target and wasting ammunition.) So they trained us to do it manually. Rather, they trained us to try to do it manually. It is very difficult to learn to hold the trigger down just long enough to fire three rounds and not two or four. I was never very good at it and no one in my company could do it consistently.

In basic you still train with the M16. Currently it has three round burst, so you are never going to get practice doing it manually. The question is, do the Rangers train to manually fire three round bursts and can they do it consistently? That one I can’t answer. Maybe someone more current or with Ranger experience can chime in.

So the possibilities are:
-He was killed by a Ranger firing an M4 (three round burst mode). IMO least likely as standard issue for Rangers is the M4A1.
-He was killed by a Ranger manually firing a three round burst from an M4A1. Certainly possible, but I can’t weight it without knowing if they still train to do this. I suspect that they must. It is a heck of a shot though to get such a tight shot group with a manual three round burst and a head shot no less.
-He was killed by an M16. These weapons are all over the world. It is probably the most mass produced rifle of all time. As there were no regular Army units involved this leaves open the possibility that it wasn’t even a friendly fire incident.

Note that I’m not defending one possibility over the others – just trying to fill in some detail for anyone interested.

OCSteve, The M249 is 5.56mm too, right? If they still have the slugs, they could just check the rifling grooves.

I guess the 10 m estimate is from standard stray patterns. Maybe there was also powder residue (that can be used forensically to estimate the distance a pistol was fired from).

OT:There is an update concerning Iraqi translators:
http://www.alternet.org/waroniraq/57902/>Demark can, why can't we?

I do wonder how they know it was 10 yards, but I suppose they're pretty good at that sort of thing.

Even with the steadiest three round burst from an M16 or M4 with that mode, the rounds spread apart as they travel. The further they travel the further they will spread.


The M249 is 5.56mm too, right? If they still have the slugs, they could just check the rifling grooves.

Correct, but a SAW is a true machine gun. It has a higher rate of fire, limited more by having to change barrels to keep them from melting than what the weapon can put out. There is no goal to get three round bursts – this is used more to hose down an area.

Just to check, is it confirmed that it was a 3-round burst and not three single shots by three people firing on command?

If their lasers were aimed at the same spot then would the first to hit move the skull so much before the second hit that they couldn't be close?

Head shots, as well. Whoever was shooting knew that they were aiming at an armoured target - a US soldier, not an Afghan - and went for the head. If he'd thought Tillman was an Afghan, he'd have aimed for centre mass.
Plus, as pointed out, he was only ten metres away.

Just to check, is it confirmed that it was a 3-round burst and not three single shots by three people firing on command?

I don’t think that’s within the realm of possibility. A head shot is tough, to get three different people to make that shot at the same moment seems impossible. Plus, there would have been different trajectories that the medical examiners would have noted.

But again, I wish that the AP would release their source material.

I was guessing Tillman stood up from cover to try to explain he was a friendly and was shot in the head because that's what moved.

One thing we know for certain -- the reaction to his death by the local commanders screams cover-up and deceit. So many activities 100% contrary to even a proper response to a friendly fire incident. And these responses, I believe, are before any White House or other out-of-theater military leadership involvement in the matter.

As for White House involvement, I think PJ has it right. The initial reports of his death to Rumsfeld and to the White House made no mention of the friendly fire cause of death, but the information on that did follow shortly thereafter. By that time, the White House was committed to the propaganda angle rather than the truth. The executive privilege nonsense is trying to cover up evidence of that sick behavior. From all of the evidence, it seems clear by the time of the very public funeral, the White House knew that it was most likely friendly fire.

But I think the accidental friendly fire vs. homicide angle was being covered up right at the source and closely held by the local commanders. I doubt that they knew with any certainty what the truth was -- the motive was to avert all scrutiny because of the horror regarding the possibilities. Like Catholic bishops concealing evidence of molestation by priests to protect the larger institutions, Ranger leadership preferred to limit the embarrassment of the episode so that questions about friendly fire or fragging never got asked.

OCSteve -- thanks for the forensic weapons info.

They're going to executive privilege themselves right into an impeachment hearing if they're not careful.

I think the plan is to executive privilege themselves out of that hearing too. Although "plan" may be too strong a word.


I was guessing Tillman stood up from cover to try to explain he was a friendly and was shot in the head because that's what moved.

All of them (17) were standing up and waving etc. at one point.

In the earlier version, the gunner in Serial 2 guessed that they were about 100 meters away. Light was fading, one guy said visibility was bad and all he could see was shapes. Another said the light was OK. All that sounds like the perfect conditions for a friendly fire incident.

But there is a huge difference between 100 meters and 10 meters. So something is just not right.

The standing/waving scenario has his last words as, "I'm Pat bleeping Tillman". Not what the AP says:

The chaplain said that O'Neal told him he was hugging the ground at Tillman's side, "crying out to God, help us. And Tillman says to him, `Would you shut your (expletive) mouth? God's not going to help you; you need to do something for yourself, you sniveling ..."

Almost as disturbing is the complete absence of any evidence of enemy fire.

The idea that seventeen Rangers can spook themselves into a gunfight... I think I'd almost rather believe this was a setup for murder than believe that the self-inducing friendly fire attack is something that could happen repeatedly, because it would limit the number of people at risk.

I believe this was the first exposure to fire for a lot of the Rangers - it was for the Tillmans. I was thinking Nell's way until I learned that.

And Tillman says to him...

a man can talk with three bullets in his head ?

This is the most informative discussion I've seen yet. The most damning evidence for me is the coverup. If there's nothing to hide, why is it being hidden? OCSteve and others, thanks for the technical information, very informative.

a man can talk with three bullets in his head ?

I think the ellipses in that quote might indicate the moment when the three bullets found Tillman's forehead.

I think an expletive is more likely. I assume Tillman got up to "do something" and got shot.

A head shot is tough, to get three different people to make that shot at the same moment seems impossible. Plus, there would have been different trajectories that the medical examiners would have noted.

This isn't exactly credible, but if they were standing in line, aiming at his forehead, and they shot on command -- kind of like a firing squad....

Aside from the technical discussion from OCS, I don't find this thread informative at all. It's interesting, but not informative. I understand that, if one wants to discuss this situation with the information currently at hand, one must speculate - a lot. But that doesn't make the speculation any more informative. A more informative discussion of the actual events will come with more information about the actual events. But continue (not that you need me to tell you to do so, of course).

I find it very difficult to believe the three rounds correspond to a three round burst, whether fired from an M16 or M4 (I have no idea what model M4 I'm carrying, but it does not have a full auto mode). The weapon moves a lot when fired in three round burst mode; indeed, it moves when you fire a single shot. To put three rounds into someone's forehead with a single burst would be an amazing feat of marksmanship, to put it mildly.

The idea Tillman was executed by a firing squad goes beyond unlikely into virtually impossible. At a minimum, you need three conspirators for such a scenario; three Rangers who were willing to execute a fellow Ranger, none of whom have said a word about it since. Outside of Hollywood, that kind of scenario doesn't happen.

Whatever happened, however, the Bush administration's treatment of it is ridiculous and they deserve to get hammered for it.

Tim: The M249 is 5.56mm too, right? If they still have the slugs, they could just check the rifling grooves.

Actually I should add this as a fourth possibility and not just discount it. From the article I linked earlier:

He heard a new machine gun burst and hit the ground, praying, as Pat Tillman fell.

What was previously reported was specified as a “machine gun burst”. If that is an accurate quote, when a Ranger says “machine gun” then he is talking about the SAW in this case. So the original report seems to be that he was killed by the SAW.

As Tim noted, it also fires the same 5.56 mm round. But it also “shakes, rattles, and rolls”. I never fired the M249, but I have fired its predecessor, the M60. There is a lot of vibration. (This would be less pronounced on the M249 due to the smaller round being fired.) Movement of a fraction of an inch at the muzzle results in the next bullet hitting feet away from the last at 100 meters. So while it is possible he was killed by a tight three shot group from the SAW at 100 meters I think it is highly unlikely.

But Tim is correct, if they recovered the bullets the rifling would determine for sure whether it was fired from an M4, an M16, or a SAW. It may be in that report.

I found OCSteve's comment on the different weapons in question informative and helpful -- not random milfacts, but information that can be brought to bear on the events.

Especially as OCS made the same point as hairshirthedonist about the need for source documents without denigrating the discussion taking place.

G'Kar: The weapon moves a lot when fired in three round burst mode; indeed, it moves when you fire a single shot. To put three rounds into someone's forehead with a single burst would be an amazing feat of marksmanship, to put it mildly.

Would it be a more, or less amazing feat of marksmanship to put three rounds into someone's forehead from ten yards with three single shots (from the same weapon -- I'm not considering the firing squad scenario)?

Nell,

I'm not really sure. I've never trained to try and hit the same guy as someone else. The marksmanship wouldn't be difficult at all at that range, but the timing might be a challenge. But as I said, I've never tried anything like that.

I think the idea he was killed firing squad style is pretty far out there, though.

G'kar, it might be you misunderstood my question; I'll rephrase:

Guy with M16-esque weapon is standing ten yards from another guy. Which is the more remarkable feat of marksmanship: Firing a three-round burst into the other guy's forehead, or firing three single shots into the other guy's forehead so that the shot pattern is very small?

Especially as OCS made the same point as hairshirthedonist about the need for source documents without denigrating the discussion taking place.

Sorry if you took it that way. It was my immediate reaction to another comment about how informative the discussion was, which came just as I was thinking about the myriad unconsidered and unimaginable possiblities that may ultimately come to light with regard to the circumstances of Pat Tillman's death. I often sit in meetings called as the immediate response to a recent, yet-to-be-well-understood situation and wonder why we aren't waiting until we get the facts before dicussing something that doesn't require an immediate decision, so I might be sensitive to this sort of thing. I suggest forgetting I commented in the first place and continue with the discussion. Sorry.

The idea Tillman was executed by a firing squad goes beyond unlikely into virtually impossible. At a minimum, you need three conspirators for such a scenario; three Rangers who were willing to execute a fellow Ranger, none of whom have said a word about it since.

I agree that it's implausible that this would happen. However, your argument against it is useless. At a minimum, it would require everybody in the unit in on it, at least after the fact, including the unit commander. Nobody would be talking and the unit commander would be doing a cover-up.

Since the result would be precisely what happened, arguing from the result doesn't help. The important thing is that it seems utterly implausible that he would be executed that way in the first place. But if for some implausible reason he was, all the details fit except the three shots that hit close together, which may or may not be a reasonable outcome.

These guys do have laserscopes, don't they? So they could all be aiming at precisely the same spot?

Nell,

Yes, I did, my apologies. Firing three single shots into a man's head would be easy, but after the first shot you'd have to reposition assuming the man wasn't propped up somehow. If you mean three single, aimed shots before Tillman could fall, then that would be more impressive than a three-round burst.

J Thomas,

I don't know what kind of sights the Rangers were using. The Army does not use 'laserscopes' to the best of my knowledge, but one does not need a 'laserscope' to aim at the same point. If three men were to aim at the center of your forehead, for example, using simple iron sights, at ten meters their shots would be remarkably close together if they squeezed the trigger at the same time.

@hairshirthedonist: I can see how sitting in actual meetings of that character would predispose you to that sort of comment. Living a blog thread -- yikes! Consider the comment forgotten, no harm done.

"Since the result would be precisely what happened, arguing from the result doesn't help."

This assumes that all potential coverups are equally plausible. They aren't. It is somewhat plausible that a squad might try to cover up the details of an accidental shooting. It is much less plausible that a squad would intentionally kill someone on their team in this way and cover it up. (Even if we give you the "interested in killing him" part, it would be an exceptionally odd way of doing it.)

I find it very plausible that a squad would be willing to make a friendly fire accident look like enemy fire. That doesn't make me super-likely to believe a three independent shooters fragging incident.

It seems the most obvious reading -- tight pattern in the forehead from friendly fire -- is "fragging".

Lots of things are possible in war -- it's entirely possible for it to have been an accident (friendly fire or mishandled weapon), a pre-meditated act of murder, an act of passion (anger, jealousy, fright even)...

However, if the facts remain "three rounds to the forehead from 10 yards", I'd put the weight on fragging -- for reasons unknown to anyone but the fellow who did it. I think it's a lot less likely for an unaimed three-round burst to have a tight shot pattern on the forehead. If it's difficult to place a three-round burst deliberately, I have a hard time imagining an accidental discharge that could do it. As for 'mistaken identity' -- everyone US soldiers considered an enemy should have taken fire to the torso, not the head.

I suspect everything that happened after is the case of Tillman's death being used for propaganda, and a powerful (especially at this point in time) White House clamping down on any inconvienent facts. (As others have pointed out).

As to why the squad would coverup a fragging -- depends on how much they saw. Depends on how they felt about Tillman. Depends on if they even knew whose weapon the bullets came from.

If there was enough confusion, it's quite possible no one knows who actually shot him. (Aside from the guy that did it, of course).

So if you've got Tillman lying there dead, no idea who shot him, or why --- what are you going to say? "He's dead, it had to be one of us? Let's investigate us all!" or "It was a tragic result of enemy fire -- oh wait, those are US bullets? I mean that while under enemy fire, he was tragically struck down by friendly fire".

I don't see any conspiracies there. Just a dead soldier, no one around but Americans, and some basic ass-covering. If Tillman's opinions on Bush made him unpopular amongst his fellows, it's even easier.

Nell: Almost as disturbing is the complete absence of any evidence of enemy fire.

Actually it was an enemy ambush that triggered it all. Pat’s group had made it through the canyon. Kevin’s group came under attack in the canyon. Pat’s group heard the noise and returned to assist.


G'Kar: To put three rounds into someone's forehead with a single burst would be an amazing feat of marksmanship, to put it mildly.

Oh, I agree with that, but I have to note that I could put fairly decent three round bursts (or 2 or 4) into the silhouette target at 50 meters. That’s aiming for center mass, a stationary target, good light conditions, no combat stress, ideal conditions overall. But I’m far from the world’s best marksman. So I find it conceivable that someone else could put three into his head from 10 meters.

Although the degree of difficulty goes way up IMO if they had the full auto version as they should have.

If he was fragged, I rather doubt it would have been intentionally done in a way that looks this bad. People are killed in identifiable ways to pass on a message. The only reason I can imagine someone decided to kill Tillman was to shut him up - killing him in an exotic way does not accomplish that goal.

I often note myself doing things - dropping a quarter which lands on edge and rolls away, producing an unusual sound on the flute when my embouchure has slipped - that I can't reproduce on purpose. Maybe this was just a very unlucky lucky shot.

But if Kevin's group came under attack in the canyon, and Pat's group returned to assist, why wouldn't there be evidence of enemy fire in the area?

AP story: No evidence at all of enemy fire was found at the scene _ no one was hit by enemy fire, nor was any government equipment struck.

Or was Pat T.'s group still far enough from where Kevin's group had come under fire not to be described as 'at the scene'?

Question for the military contributors: is it possible that some one person in the squad was unofficially using an M4 or M16 that day for some reason, and the details were not released so nobody would be able to say with certainty that it was the one guy with the weapon that fired 3-round bursts who actually hit Tillman? I don't know whether it ever happens that the wrong firearm is improperly issued, people grab a temporary substitute pending replacement, or whatever. Is that plausible?

Nell: Even in the earlier story I don’t think it says that anyone was wounded by enemy fire. But they heard/saw mortars going off and heard small arms fire and saw enemy fighters above them. So the stress of combat was real even if the enemy attack was pretty ineffective at that point.

Tillman and other Rangers moved up a rocky north-south ridge that faced the ambush canyon on a roughly perpendicular angle.

So the Pat scene was a different location than the ambush scene where Kevin’s group came under fire. Kevin’s group, fleeing the ambush in the canyon came towards Pat’s group.

Tillman and his team fired toward the canyon to suppress the ambush. His brother Kevin was in the canyon.

Pat’s group actually opened fire on Kevin’s group first. Kevin’s group returned fire.

Commentary on scenarios so far --

OC Steve - not knowing the location of the three forehead wounds, is it possible that the weapon was fired in full auto but either "walked" too far by the fourth shot, or, assuming a close range accident, the shooter fired and let up in shock as soon as he found his LOS obstructed by Tillman?

re: three separate shots. Not likely at range, especially since that would assume a level of coordinated fire.

re: laser sights. Again, this would assume way too much coordination of fire to be likely at range (have to time the shots precisely) and conditions like those described in the reports don't lend themselves to this sort of accuracy even with laser sights, especially if the sights were zeroed for some range other than the one at which Tillman was situated. There are a lot of little adjustments to be made in such a case, (not like a first-person shooter where bullets travel in nice straight lines regardless of range). At much closer range, perhaps, but again, this is pretty difficult. One weapon seems a more likely situation to me, and one weapon fired in some sort of burst from close range would seem most likely provided that the report is accurate.

Regarding unusual feats of marksmanship - these guys aren't kids plinking with paintball guns, they are highly trained soldiers equipped with some of the best combat rifles available. Unusual feats of marksmanship are their bread and butter. A friendly fire incident doesn't imply wild shooting, it implies very accurate shooting at the wrong target.

Having never fired anything beyond an old recoilless 4.5 mm air rifle, I am in no way an expert on practical marksmanship. Is there any info, whether the shots were fired from a standing (=free) or from a supported position? I'd guess that in the latter case a clear triple shot would be less demanding. Same thing with a machine gun. I'd guess a bi/tripod would act as a stabilizer.

Nous: Anything is possible. And other than the technical aspects and characteristics of various weapons I’m relating here obviously everything else is speculation. But I’d really like to get a look at that full report.

From the linked AP story:

But the latest documents give a different account from a chaplain who debriefed the entire unit days after Tillman was killed.

The chaplain said that O'Neal told him he was hugging the ground at Tillman's side, "crying out to God, help us. And Tillman says to him, `Would you shut your (expletive) mouth? God's not going to help you; you need to do something for yourself, you sniveling ..."

From the declaration (see page 4) of the same PFC O'Neal in support of Tilman's Silver Star:

VALOROUS AWARD WITNESS STATEMENT

I, PFC O'Neal, a 203 gunner for Second squad, Alpha company, witnesses the following acts performed by CPL Tilman during the evening of 22nd of April, 2004.

Second platoon was assigned the task of moving to a village to look through and search out any links to terrorist activities. While in route to this objective we split into two serials and the second serial came under attack. CPL Tillman and I moved out to a ridge and engage the enemy so oor comrades would be able to move safely from the kill zone. CPL Tillman moved us into a position where we would be safe from enemy rounds, he placed me in the safest possible position and took a less safe position for himself. We started to engage the enemy very successfully when the enemy moved most of there attention to our position, and we drew a lot of fire from them. CPL Tillman moved from his position to drop a smoke grenade to signal our troops of our position and to give me some extra cover when he was hit and killed. CPL Tillman saved my life by drawing most of the fire from my position to his and in return I survived and he was killed, I have no doubt in my mind that the only reason I am alive to write this statement is because CPL Tilman saved my life.

From the WaPo article covering the Tilman hearings:

Kevin Tillman -- who was in the convoy with his brother the day he died but was too far away to see what had happened -- testified that he was whisked from the area shortly after Pat's death and was sent home with his body in an attempt to keep him from the truth. Spec. Bryan O'Neal, who was with Tillman when other U.S. soldiers began firing on them, testified yesterday that he was ordered not to speak to the Tillman family or to mention that it was a friendly-fire case, with the implication that he would get in trouble if he did.

"I was 100 percent positive it was friendly fire," O'Neal said. He said he reported the incident that day.

The cover up was orchestrated immediately by senior people, not grunts (they were immediately instructed not to talk with anyone about the incident), and included instructing O'Neal to give false testimony in support of the propaganda story supporting the Tilman's Silver Star. With this level of deceit by the command on the ground and senior command at home, most anything is possible regarding what really happened.

An isolated incident or symptomatic of deliberate disinformation by the Pentagon in this war?

The deception certainly isn't an isolated incident, since we saw it with the Jessica Lynch story as well.

Bizarrely, Tillman's unit was involved in the Lynch "rescue".

If the White House really wanted to they could turn this into a PR winner for them on this whole executive privilege claim. They could say that despite their the great importance of executive privilege to the functioning of the executive branch, in order to clear up any misconceptions about the latest round of speculation and allegations surrounding Pat Tillman's death and to provide closure to the Tillman family, we are waiving executive privilege in this case and turning over everything they have.

Of course, that would require (i) them to give an inch; (ii) be able to convince everyone they had turned over everything; (iii) recognize that they were wrong; and (iv) that they only were involved in trying to exploit Tillman's death for publicity purposes and not involved in covering it up.

IOW, not gonna happen.

Morat's story seems plausible to me.

The firing squad seems utterly implausible when they need to maneuver to get their friends out of trouble.

Michael Totten's report from the 82nd airborne doing surge duty near baghada has then with night vision scopes and lasers that only they can see. I supposed the rangers might have that too, without knowing.
Totten

"Fraggings" are covered up because they illuminate the obvious: War turns people into killers.

It would be more surprising if "friendly fire" didn't occur.


J Thomas,

The sights referred to in that article fire an infrared laser. They're not usable during daylight hours because the light washes out the night vision devices.

It seems most likely to me that Occam's Razor applies here: the platoon fired on one another, resulting in the death of Tillman. People higher up didn't want a big article about how a unit of Rangers could screw up and engage one another, so they tried to bury that and make Tillman go out a hero. (This, btw, was also standard policy in the Army for a long time, so that part is not necessarily malicious; when an officer loses a soldier and must write to the parents, it's considered pretty standard to tell them that their child was a good soldier who was killed doing their duty.) So a tragic accident became a scandal because, as is so often the case, the cover-up is more damning than the incident itself.

Other explanations are possible, but their likelihood drops off rather sharply given everything we think we know about Tillman.

Bizarreley, whil the Nasiriyah armor to support that push in the war got distracted getting stufck in the sand and making the PR story of Jessica, my brother was trapped behind enemy lines for 14 hours, and got himself a little silver star for being the frst survivor of his unit after getting strafed by A-10s to make it back out to his track and get ammo to hold out untill the armor that was supposed tp hold this shit got up out of the sand and came and provided backup.

Friendly fire isn't.

disputes the reported last words above:

"He never would have called me sniveling", O'Neal said. "I don't ever remember talking to this Chaplin, and I find this characterization of Pat upsetting. He never once degraded me. He's the only person I ever worked for who didn't degrade anyone."

Nihil nisi bonum, but still it sounds like Tillman was an extraordinary guy. It's awful that he died so young and in such circumstances.

Oops, that should have been something like "Soldier at the scene disputes".

It seems most likely to me that Occam's Razor applies here: the platoon fired on one another, resulting in the death of Tillman.

What turned this into a story again was the autopsy report.

30 feet? The other part of the platoon shot him 3 times in the forehead from 30 feet away?

I understand why the story has resurfaced. But while the three rounds in the forehead does sound odd, given that is the only 'evidence' of some kind of foul play, there just isn't anything else to go on.

G'Kar, the discrepancy between '30 feet' and any of the eyewitness accounts calls all of the eyewitness accounts into question. Someone needs to follow up with the witnesses, and the correct forensic information, and see what they can get.

A valid point, Charley.

I do wonder how much uncertainty is associated with the estimate of 10 yards. If it's based only on the spread of the bullets, then it depends on assumptions about how steady the rifle was. But if the earlier reports were that the distance was 100 yards, then I guess the rifle would have to be 10 times steadier to give a similar spread at that distance, so that could be beyond the realm of possibility.

KCinDC,

That would depend on whether or not all the rounds came from the same weapon. Did the examination determine that one way or the other?

I think at 10 yards there should also be charge residue on the victim, not that likely on 100 yards.

I'd recommend folks take a look at this story from Daily Kos. A quote from an Ed Goff, who has been working with the Tillmans, on whether he thinks this means that it is more likely that he was fragged:

Not unless it occurred in front of at least eight people, all who had great respect for him, and who conspired to cover this up together.

He goes on to say that it was likely a SAW at about 40 meters, and that it is possible to get groupings that tight with a SAW if you walk fire up to the target and then "tighten down" on the weapon (meaning, I guess, to grasp it more firmly to fight vibration.)

(h/t) Armchair Generalist

Andrew Sullivan notes some possible gobbledygook about Delta forces.

That's Stan Goff, one of the founders of Military Families Speak Out.

Oops, Stan Goff, you're right. Sorry for the brain-fart.

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