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Mother Questions Tillman's Death in 'Fog of War'

May 6, 2008 (Morning Edition)

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Four years ago last month, Army Ranger Pat Tillman set off with his unit on orders to "have boots on the ground" in a small Afghan village near the border with Pakistan. By nightfall, he was dead. His death has been the subject of seven investigations, several inquiries and two congressional hearings.

The military reported that Tillman died a heroic death during an insurgent strike, before admitting weeks later that he was killed by friendly fire and launching a series of investigations.

"We as an Army failed in our duty to the Tillman family, the duty we owe to all families of our fallen soldiers: Give them the truth, the best we know it, as fast as we can," Acting Army Secretary Peter Geren said in March 2007.

Tillman's mother and father have publicly expressed frustration over the probes and what they have said are the military's "lies" about their 27-year-old son's death. Mary Tillman has launched her own investigation, poring over thousands of pages of Army documents. Pat Tillman, an NFL star who joined the military after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, died in a confusing scene in the mountains of Afghanistan.

"Pat went up a ridgeline and got in a position where there were some rocks and he could see some enemy above the canyon walls," says Mary Tillman, whose new book is called Boots on the Ground by Dusk.

"According to the Army, [another U.S. Army] vehicle came out of the canyon basically in a panic, in a fog of war, and shot up the ridgeline in a matter of 4 seconds," she says. "That is the story that ultimately we were told."

But that's not what Mary Tillman and the rest of her family say they ultimately learned about Pat Tillman's death on April 22, 2004.

"You have to understand and I think it's really important that people realize that our family originally, when we learned of the friendly fire, it was very tragic and we were very saddened by it," she tells Steve Inskeep. "It's a horrible thing to know that your loved one was killed by his own men. We thought it was a terrible accident.

"But I think that after looking at the documents and talking to soldiers, I have a feeling that they didn't come out of that canyon in a fog of war. And their behavior was more of an adrenaline rush, a lust to fight."

Mary Tillman says her quest for the truth behind her son's death is often dismissed by people who think it's just the pursuit of a grieving mother.

"I will always grieve for him; I will always miss him," she says of her son. "But we can't accept that he was treated with such disrespect and treated as a political tool, we believe."

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