Army medical examiners were suspicious about the close proximity of the three bullet holes in Pat Tillman's forehead and tried without success to get authorities to investigate whether the former NFL player's death amounted to a crime, according to documents obtained by the Associated Press.
"The medical evidence did not match up with the, with the scenario as described," a doctor who examined Tillman's body after he was killed on the battlefield in Afghanistan in 2004 told investigators.
The doctors, whose names were blacked out, said that the bullet holes were so close together that it appeared the Army Ranger was cut down by an M-16 fired from a mere 10 yards or so away.
Ultimately, the Pentagon did conduct a criminal investigation, and asked Tillman's comrades whether he was disliked by his men and whether they had any reason to believe he was deliberately killed. The Pentagon eventually ruled that Tillman's death at the hands of his comrades was a friendly fire accident.
The Pentagon and the Bush administration have been criticized in recent months for lying about the circumstances of Tillman's death. The military initially told the public and the Tillman family that he had been killed by enemy fire. Only weeks later did the Pentagon acknowledge that he was gunned down by fellow Rangers.
With questions lingering about how high in the Bush administration the deception reached, Congress is preparing for yet another hearing next week.
The Pentagon is separately preparing a new round of punishments, including a stinging and rare rebuke of retired Lt. Gen. Philip R. Kensinger Jr., 60, according to military officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because the punishments under consideration have not been made public.
Army Secretary Pete Geren is expected to recommend demoting the three-star general for his role in providing misleading information to investigators about the shooting, military officials say.
In more than four hours of questioning by the Pentagon inspector general's office in December 2006, Kensinger repeatedly contradicted other officers' testimony and sometimes his own. He said on some 70 occasions that he did not recall something.
Kensinger, who headed Army special operations, is one of seven high-ranking Army officers expected to receive official reprimands for critical errors in reporting the circumstances of Tillman's death in April 2004.
The Army said it has not made any final decisions and plans an announcement next week, after notifying Tillman's family and Congress of its actions.
Geren also is considering a letter of censure to Kensinger. He is in line for the harshest punishment of those involved in what has become a three-year controversy that led to more than half a dozen investigations. Five other officers, including three generals, are expected to receive less severe letters criticizing their actions.
Army officials decided against tougher penalties, which could have included additional demotions, dishonorable discharges or prison time. One senior officer, Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander of the Joint Special Operations Command, escaped punishment.
Tillman's death received worldwide attention because he had walked away from a huge contract with the National Football League's Arizona Cardinals to enlist in the Army after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Tillman's mother, Mary, has long suggested that her son was deliberately killed by his comrades and said the impending punishments were inadequate. She said she looks forward to the congressional hearings next week.
"I'm not satisfied with any of it," she said.
Among other information contained in the 2,300 pages of testimony that were obtained:
- In his last words before he was killed, Pat Tillman snapped at a panicky comrade under fire to shut up and stop "sniveling."
- Army attorneys sent each other congratulatory e-mails for keeping criminal investigators at bay as the Army conducted an internal friendly fire investigation that resulted in administrative, or noncriminal, punishments.
- No evidence at all of enemy fire was found at the scene - no one was hit by enemy fire, nor was any government equipment struck.