US Military Accused of Lying to Create War Heroes
By Stephanie Griffith
Agence France-Presse

Wednesday 25 April 2007

A pair of high-profile US army figures accused the military of spreading outright lies and manipulating their stories for a hero-starved public, during testimony before Congress Tuesday.

One was Kevin Tillman, the brother of a US football star killed by "friendly fire" in Afghanistan three years ago, who said the military lied about the circumstances of his death to avoid a public relations fiasco and to draw attention from the Abu Ghraib prison scandal.

The other was Jessica Lynch, a female soldier who decried her inaccurate portrayal as a "little girl Rambo," firing her weapon down to the last bullet before being captured by Iraqis in early 2003, and then daringly saved by US forces nine days later.

"It was not true ... I'm still confused as to why they choose to lie and try to make me a legend," she told the House Government Reform Committee hearing on "Misleading Information from the Battlefield."

Lynch was 19 when her convoy was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade in Nasiriyah. Eleven of the soldiers with her died in the attack.

Lynch told of Iraqi doctors' attempts to care for her while she lay partially paralyzed from her injuries.

"At the same time, tales of great heroism were being told. At my parents' home in Wirt County, West Virginia, it was under siege by media, all repeating the story of the little girl Rambo from the hills of West Virginia who went down fighting," Lynch said.

Lynch had not been firing a weapon at the time of the ambush, just riding in a truck. She said her testimony was not politically motivated, but that she felt the real story of what happened should get out.

"The truth of war is not always easy. The truth is always more heroic than the hype," she said.

"The bottom line is the American people are capable of determining their own ideals for heroes, and they don't need to be told elaborate lies."

Kevin Tillman told the congressional hearing that family members initially believed the US military's accounts that his brother, Pat Tillman, fought valiantly to the death during a firefight in Afghanistan on April 22, 2004.

"Our family was told that he was shot in the head by the enemy in a fierce firefight outside a narrow canyon," Kevin said.

But he said they felt shock and betrayal upon learning several weeks later that the National Football League star was apparently killed by over-zealous members of his own platoon.

"This was not some fog of war. They simply lost control," said Kevin, as he described the shooting of his brother by fellow troops.

"Pat's death was clearly the result of fratricide. It was due to a series of careless actions by several individuals in our own platoon after a small harassing ambush," said Kevin.

Kevin joined the US Army Rangers after the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington along with his older brother Pat, who gave up a 3.6-million-dollar contract as a defensive back for the Arizona Cardinals to become an Army ranger.

Kevin, who was assigned to the same unit, abandoned a promising pro baseball career for the same reason.

For more than a month after his death, including at a nationally televised memorial service, the army persisted in telling the family that Pat died in an ambush under hostile fire.

"Revealing that Pat's death was a fratricide would have been yet another political disaster during a month already swollen with political disasters, and a brutal truth that the American public would undoubtedly find unacceptable," Kevin told the panel.

"A terrible tragedy that might have further undermined support for the war in Iraq was transformed into an inspirational message that served instead to support the nation's foreign policy wars in Iraq and Afghanistan," he said.

"It was utter fiction," he said, accusing the military of "deliberate and careful misrepresentations."

In the hours immediately after his brother's death, "crucial evidence was destroyed - including Pat's uniform, equipment and notebook," he said.

"The autopsy was not done according to regulation and the field hospital report was falsified."

The Pentagon last month called for action against a three-star general and eight other Army officers for their handling of Tillman's death.

House Democrat and panel member Henry Waxman accused the government of making up "sensational details and stories" and said he hoped the hearing could "begin to right those wrongs."

"The least we owe to our courageous men and women who are fighting for our freedom is the truth," he said.