Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Rumsfeld Testifies in Hearing on Tillman's Death


This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Cohen.


I'm Alex Chadwick.

Coming up: We talked to a top American diplomat. U.N. troops are headed to Darfur. Can they make a difference?

COHEN: But first, on Capitol Hill today, questions for Donald Rumsfeld about how the military handled the friendly fire death of Pat Tillman. A House committee is investigating the death of the former NFL star in Afghanistan in 2004.

For weeks after his death, the Army maintained that Tillman was killed by enemy fighters, even though commanders knew within days of his death that he had been killed by a friendly fire. Lawmakers want to know how far up the chain of command the cover-up, so-called cover-up, went, and when Rumsfeld, who was then secretary of defense, learned about it.

NPR's Tom Bowman joins us now from the Pentagon. Tom, the Tillman family wasn't informed for weeks about the truth. When did Rumsfeld say that he learned about it?

TOM BOWMAN: Well, this is what Rumsfeld had to say today before Representative Waxman's committee.

Mr. DONALD RUMSFELD (Former Defense Secretary): I'm told that I received word of this development some time after May 20, 2004, but my recollection reflects the fact that it occurred well over two years ago. And as a result, I do not recall when I first learned about the possibility that Corporal Tillman's death might have resulted from fratricide.

BOWMAN: But there was a memo written right a week after Tillman's death, and clearly several top generals knew about it - a handful of generals - that it was highly probable that Tillman was killed by a friendly fire.

COHEN: And what about some of the other top officials in the military? Did anyone know about Tillman's death and the reality behind it any sooner?

BOWMAN: Yes. Well, this is an exchange between Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney of New York. And she was talking to retired General Richard Myers, who at the time was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the top military officer.

Representative CAROLYN MALONEY (Democrat, New York): Why did you not come forward and tell the family and tell the public the truth? The family was not told the truth until the end of May.

General RICHARD MYERS (Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff): Well, first of all, I did not know that Corporal Tillman had been killed by friendly fire. I didn't say that. What I said was that I was informed that it's possibly friendly fire, and that there is an investigation ongoing. In terms of notifying the family, that is in Army channels, and we've just talked about the regret there is for the fact that that was not done properly.

BOWMAN: So there we have it. Myers is saying it was the responsibility of the Army to tell the family. And the Army yesterday punished Retired Lieutenant General Philip Kensinger, who received that memo a week after Tillman's death. And they punished him for not informing the Army leadership, including the secretary of the Army at that time.

COHEN: Do we expect the punishment to go any higher or any further beyond Kensinger?

BOWMAN: No, we don't think so. There was one other general who's still on active duty, Lieutenant General Stan McCrystal, who wrote that memo, and he was criticized in a Pentagon inspector general's report for being aware of some false information about Tillman's death, that he was killed by enemy fire, that was part of a Silver Star citation for Tillman. But the Army has said it will not punish McCrystal.

COHEN: Is there any indication that any concealment of information might have gone on as high up as the White House and the president?

BOWMAN: Well, it's a good question. And Myers and Rumsfeld, they were both asked about that. And they said around the time - this is late April for Myers, and toward the end of May for Rumsfeld - he said he never talked to - both said they never talked to anybody at the White House about it.

COHEN: Tom, this was Rumsfeld's first appearance on Capitol Hill since he was replaced by Robert Gates. How did he seem to appear?

BOWMAN: As always, he's pretty calm and collected. He'll dissect questions from members. And he's pretty cautious and careful about what he says.

COHEN: I understand that Pat Tillman's mother, Mary Tillman, was there as well. Any response from her?

BOWMAN: We have not heard any response from her yet. The Tillman family were sitting in the back of the hearing room. And I would assume when the hearing is over in the next hour or two, we'll likely hear from them.

COHEN: Tom Bowman is speaking with us from the Pentagon. Thank you so much, Tom.

BOWMAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Alex Cohen
Tom Bowman
Tom Bowman is a NPR National Desk reporter covering the Pentagon.