White House: Bush didn't know Tillman was killed by friendly fire

Thursday, April 26, 2007

WASHINGTON -- President Bush hopes someone is held responsible for the U.S. military's mishandling of information about the death of former football star Pat Tillman in Afghanistan, the White House said Wednesday.

Bush did not learn about the unusual circumstances of the Army ranger's death until after the soldier's memorial service May 3, 2004, said deputy press secretary Dana Perino.

Military officers at first said Tillman had died in an ambush, when in fact he was accidentally killed by fellow U.S. troops.

Accountability

"I think that he feels deeply sorry for the family and all that they've gone through," Perino said. "And he's pleased that the Department of Defense has taken it upon themselves to investigate it. And he hopes that people are held to account."

Tillman's death received worldwide attention because he had walked away from a huge contract with the NFL's Arizona Cardinals to enlist in the Army after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The Pentagon initially misled his family about how he died April 22, 2004, and relatives did not learn the truth for more than a month.

Bush asked for updates about Tuesday's hearing by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which was held to learn whether, and when, top Defense officials and the White House knew that Tillman's death resulted from friendly fire.

"It's not clear -- people don't remember -- if he [Bush] heard it from media reports, or if he heard it from the Pentagon, but it was sometime after the funeral," Perino said.

Memo of warning

In questioning what the White House knew about Tillman, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., cited a memo written by a top general seven days after Tillman's death, warning that it was "highly possible" the Army Ranger was killed by friendly fire and making clear that his warning should be conveyed to the president.

But Bush made no reference to the way Tillman died in a speech delivered two days after the memo was written in late April 2004.

The White House said there is no indication that Bush received the warning, which was conveyed from then-Maj. Gen. Stanley McChrystal to Gen. John Abizaid, head of Central Command.

"There is no record of Gen. McChrystal's memo coming to the White House," Perino said.

Sen. John McCain, on his presidential campaign bus in New Hampshire, called the Army's actions in the Tillman case "inexcusable and unconscionable."

"I don't know if there was a cover-up," said McCain, R-Ariz. But he added: "It was way, way too long before the whole story came out."

"I think people should be held accountable, obviously, and we will continue to push that they be held accountable," he said.

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