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Lawmakers Probe Military Disinformation Campaign

Family members of Pat Tillman, a soldier killed in a friendly fire incident in Afghanistan, have testified before a congressional committee examining disinformation from the U.S. military. VOA's Dan Robinson reports, lawmakers also heard from former Army soldier Jessica Lynch, who was hailed as a hero amid initial military reports, later proved to be false, about her capture in Iraq before she was rescued by U.S. forces.

For the family of Pat Tillman, and for Jessica Lynch, details that emerged about disinformation by the military added pain and humiliation to what otherwise was loyal service in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Tillman was a former football star who gave up a lucrative contract with a professional team in order to serve in the Army.

He was posthumously awarded the Silver Star after he was killed in Afghanistan, for what the Army first described as his role in leading a counterattack against hostile forces.

Later, the Army acknowledged that he was shot by fellow soldiers, and his family members pressed for further information and investigations.

Appearing before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Tillman's brother Kevin asserted the military manufactured what he called utter fiction about his brother with the objective of covering up bad news from the war front:

"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," said Kevin Tillman.

Democratic Congressman Henry Waxman says his committee is determined to learn why inaccurate accounts regarding both Tillman and Lynch were disseminated by the military:

"This committee is going to do its best, to find out the source of the fabrications that you had to endure," said Henry Waxman. "We want to know whether they were the result of incompetence, or a deliberate strategy to spin a compelling story at a critical time."

Kevin Tillman and his mother Mary asserted that the military continues to cover up aspects of Pat Tillman's death, and is avoiding answering further questions posed by the family.

"[In] every way they are dodging [evading] us," said Mary Tillman. "And the inspector general condoned that, even though they made the public believe they did such a grand job because they pointed the finger at four generals and five other officers. That is a smokescreen. These officers are scapegoats."

Defense department and military officers detailed results of investigations, including what the Pentagon has called corrective action taken against nine officials, including four generals in connection with Tillman's death.

Brigadier General Rodney Johnson of the Army Criminal Investigative Command defended the integrity of the probe his office conducted.

"I can assure you that my command investigated this incident with a tremendous degree of specificity, and left no lead unturned," said General Johnson.

But Thomas Gimble, Acting Inspector General at the Pentagon, read a list of failures by officials in the chain of command.

"They include the failure to interview all relevant witnesses, failure to address factual inconsistencies in witness testimony, drawing conclusions not supported by evidence and failure to pursue inaccuracies related to the Silver Star," said Thomas Gimble. "The third investigating officer exacerbated the situation by issuing findings that were not supported by testimony with family members, senior Army officials, and members of Congress."

Tom Davis is a Virginia Republican:

"Rules and procedures put in place precisely for the purpose of providing timely information about combat deaths were ignored," noted Congressman Davis. "Physical evidence that could have yielded critical information was destroyed. Plausible information on the likelihood this was a friendly fire incident was discounted, perhaps even suppressed, while statements supporting an award of a Silver Star went forward suggesting he died from enemy fire."

Meanwhile, former Army Private Lynch had this comment about what she called tales of great heroism on her part as she was captured by Iraq's military.

"Media all repeating the story of the little girl Rambo from the hills of West Virginia who went down fighting," said Lynch. "It was not true. I have repeatedly said when asked if the stories about me helped inspire our troops and rally a nation, then perhaps there was some good. However, I am still confused as to why they chose to lie, and try to make me a legend when the heroes, my fellow soldiers that day, were legendary."

The House committee under Congressman Waxman is continuing its investigations, with lawmakers asking additional questions, and seeking documents and other materials, regarding whether knowledge of manipulation of information went even higher in the defense department hierarchy.

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