Army Secretary Pete Geren, left, and Army Vice Chairman Gen. Richard A. Cody brief reporters at the Pentagon on July 31 regarding the censuring of retired Lt. Gen. Philip Kensinger for the chain of errors that followed the friendly-fire death in 2004 of Cpl. Pat Tillman. (Charles Dharapak / The Associated Press)
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Retired Lt. Gen. Philip Kensinger could lose one of his stars for allegedly lying to investigators looking into the handling of Cpl. Pat Tillman's friendly fire death in Afghanistan, Army leaders announced Tuesday.
Kensinger, who at the time was commanding general of Army Special Operations Command, was singled out as the primary reason the Tillman family and many Americans believe the Army tried to cover up the circumstances of the former professional football player's death.
"Lieutenant General Kensinger failed in his duty to his soldiers, and the results were a calamity for the Army that we continue to suffer from today," Army Secretary Pete Geren said. "Had [Kensinger] done his job, fulfilled his multiple duties as a senior leader in the administrative chain of command, we would not be here today, three years later, attempting to correct the record and restore the credibility of the Army on this critical matter."
In a written response to a memorandum outlining the charges against him, Kensinger wrote that "on every occasion that I was asked to respond to questions about the death of Corporal Tillman, I provided truthful answers under oath to the best of my recollection and memory. The allegation ? that I lied ... is of grave concern to me, and is a conclusion I categorically reject as false."
Geren and Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Richard Cody spoke to reporters at the Pentagon on Tuesday to announce the findings of a review of nine officers in Tillman's chain of command in the aftermath of the soldier's death.
Geren called the handling of Tillman's death a "perfect storm of mistakes, misjudgments and a failure of leadership that brought us where we are today, with the Army's credibility in question about a matter that strikes at the very heart of Army core values, our commitment to our fallen soldiers and their grieving families, soldiers' loyalty to fallen soldiers."
The review, conducted by Gen. William Wallace, commanding general of Training and Doctrine Command, was ordered after the March release of a Defense Department inspector general's review that found those nine officers, including four general officers, made a series of mistakes in reporting the facts about how Tillman died.
Tillman was killed April 22, 2004, by his fellow Rangers near the tiny village of Magarah, Afghanistan.
The review by Wallace was the seventh investigation into the circumstances and aftermath of Tillman's death.
"The errors we made not only led to additional investigations, but also created in the mind of many a perception that the Army intended to deceive the public and the Tillman family," Geren said. "Many have come to believe that the Army manipulated that tragedy to serve ends rather than the pursuit of truth, deceiving a grieving family and violating our duty to a fallen comrade."
As part of his review, Wallace looked at all the previous investigations and he reviewed the conduct of 10 officers. The 10th officer was not part of the original group of nine named by the DoD inspector general, but was added to the review by Wallace.
In all, Wallace took action against seven officers, four of them general officers.
Wallace found that Kensinger, the senior leader in the administrative chain of command for the 75th Ranger Regiment, was guilty of deception, Geren said.
Kensinger is guilty not of mishandling the friendly fire investigation, but for lying to investigators seven months later and then again two years later when the DoD inspector general conducted its report, Geren said.
"General Wallace concluded that Lieutenant General Kensinger deceived investigators about what he knew and when he knew it," Geren said. "He made false official statements, but that his deception played no role in the key events in the misunderstandings and misinformation immediately following Corporal Tillman's death."
Kensinger also was found guilty of not informing the Tillman family about the friendly fire incident in a timely manner, not appointing a safety board to investigate the incident and not informing the then-acting Army secretary of the fratricide investigation, Geren said.
Wallace filed an official reprimand against Kensinger, and Geren, in his review of Wallace's findings, determined that Kensinger "compromised his duty to the acting Army secretary by providing a report including information he knew to be false, which was his own sworn testimony," Geren said.
Kensinger also failed to provide proper leadership to his soldiers, Geren said.
"He let his soldiers down," he said.
Geren said he considered everything from a court-martial to a memorandum of concern against Kensinger, but in the end he chose to censure Kensinger and refer the retired three-star to an Army Grade Determination Review Board. The board, made up of four-star generals because of Kensinger's current rank, will recommend to Geren whether to revoke Kensinger's third star.
No timeline has been set for when a recommendation will be made, nor for when Geren will make his decision.
Here are the actions taken by Wallace to the other officers:
* Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, then Joint Task Force commanding general, did not receive a reprimand and no action was taken against him. McChrystal "reasonably and appropriately" presumed the Silver Star packet presented to him for his signature was accurate. Wallace also determined that McChrystal acted reasonably and quickly when he alerted his higher headquarters about the ongoing investigation into Tillman's death.
* Brig. Gen. James Nixon, then commander of the 75th Ranger Regiment, received a written memorandum of concern for his "well-intentioned but fundamentally incorrect" decision to keep information close-hold within his staff. Nixon, who was a colonel at the time, did keep his chain of command informed of the investigation, Wallace found.
* Retired Brig. Gen. Gary Jones, then commander of Army Special Forces Command and one of the 15-6 investigating officers in the case, received a written memorandum of concern. Wallace found that Jones should have interviewed an additional witness about Kensinger's statement as to when he was informed about the Tillman fratricide in order to complete his review. Jones also incorrectly characterized the basis for Tillman's actions in his explanation of why Tillman should receive the Silver Star.
* Col. Bailey, who at the time was Tillman's battalion commander, received a memorandum of concern for his handling of punishments against the Rangers involved in the shooting of Tillman. His counseling had nothing to do with the investigations that followed Tillman's death.
* Brig. Gen. Gina Farrisee, the 10th officer reviewed by Wallace, received a memorandum of concern. Wallace found that Farrisee, who at the time was director of military personnel management, failed to follow up on information received in a phone call from the armed forces medical examiner regarding inconsistencies in preliminary reports on Tillman's death.
The other officers reviewed by Wallace were not named, nor where the punishments meted out to them because they are not general officers. Of those four officers, two were not punished.
The investigation by Wallace confirmed that the soldiers who handled the investigation and family notification made many mistakes, Geren said, but they did so with no intent to deceive.
"They had evidence of fratricide and initiated the friendly fire investigation the day after Corporal Tillman's death with the intention of finding the truth and releasing their results upon completion," Geren said. "Mistakenly, they conducted their work believing that they were to keep all information close-hold, including keeping it from the family, until the investigations were complete and approved by higher authority."
Geren added that "almost incredibly," this misunderstanding of Army policy and regulation ran all the way up the chain of command, including to Kensinger.
"The misperception of deceit was compounded by questions surrounding the award of Corporal Tillman's Silver Star and erroneous information disseminated in the hours immediately following his death," Geren said.
The Silver Star is the nation's third-highest award for valor.
"Sadly, these lingering questions have obscured and detracted from Corporal Tillman's undisputed heroism, which is, in itself, a tragedy," Geren said. "The Army did not make Pat Tillman a hero. His actions made Pat Tillman a hero."
In speaking to reporters at the Pentagon, Cody said he was disappointed in how Tillman's death was handled.
"I cannot emphasize enough how disappointing it is, both professionally and as the father of two soldiers personally, that those who knew chose not to inform the Tillman family immediately that friendly fire was suspected and that we had ongoing investigations," he said. "We can never do with any investigation, report or offered apology that will ease the additional pain the Tillman family has had to bear because of our Army's failures. As an Army we have held ourselves accountable, we have taken corrective action, we have instituted important changes."
Geren said he believes that, seven investigations later, all the key facts of the case have been addressed and settled.
"This was a tragedy that befell soldiers of the world's greatest light infantry," Geren said. "They don't make many mistakes. This was an accident. ? And as I review all the matters that were considered by the investigations ? there was never any effort to mislead or to hide or try to avoid embarrassing information coming public."
Geren said he understands why the Tillman family may have lost confidence in the Army.
"We have made mistakes over and over and over, an incredible number of mistakes, in handling this, and we've destroyed our credibility in their eyes as well as in the eyes of many others as well," he said. "What we have done here is do our best to determine what the truth is and do our best to explain to them and to the country what we have found. I don't know more that we can do."