It looks Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the man taking over as the new top commander in Afghanistan, was a key player in one of the more shameful episodes of the Bush administration’s war on terror — though it’s unclear exactly how much blame, if any, he himself deserves.
In 2007, the Associated Press reported that McChrystal suspected when he approved a Silver Star citation for Pat Tillman that the former NFL star killed in Afghanistan may have been felled by friendly fire. McChrystal told military investigators that that suspicion had led him to send a memo to top generals, urging them not to say publicly that Tillman was killed under “devastating enemy fire.”
That seems to put McChrystal on the side of the angels. But it’s a bit more complicated. McChrystal wrote that memo just one day after approving the award. Questioned about that potential discrepancy by investigators, he said he nevertheless believed Tillman deserved the award, but explained:
Because I thought it was friendly fire, I thought it was important that key attendees know that that theory could become the finding of the investigation, and if they were going to make a statement about ‘killed by enemy fire,’ it might not be certain.
An internal DOD report on the Tillman affair found that McChrystal should be held accountable for not notifying officials processing the Silver Star award that friendly fire was the likely cause of Tillman’s death. But another army general found that McChrystal had acted reasonably in assuming that information he had received supporting the award recommendation was accurate.
Tillman, of course, was ultimately found to have been killed by friendly fire. His father has blamed high-ranking Army officers for presenting “outright lies” to the Tillman family and the public about the cause of his son’s death, and has accused army brass of using the death of an all-American football star to engineer a public relations coup.