In the Name of Pat Tillman: Good Riddance to Stanley McChrystal
[in "honor" of the ignominous end of the career of Lt. General Stanley McChrystal, at the hands of Rolling Stone magazine, let's take a moment to remember why Lt. Gen. McChrystal never deserved to be promoted lat year. He deserved to be indicted. In the name of Pat Tillman, I fervently hope that the next time McChrystal's name is in the news, it's to answer for his action's after Pat's death in a court of law. Here is a piece I wrote last year to make the case that McChrystal showed a criminal lack of judgment regarding the aftermath of Pat's death. We now see he has shown a similarly criminal - and deadly - lack of judgment with his approach to the "surge" in Aghanistan. Good riddance. ]
When NFL player-turned-Army Ranger Pat Tillman died at the hands of US troops in a case of "friendly fire," the spin machine at the Pentagon went into overdrive. Rumsfeld and company couldn't have their most high-profile soldier dying in such an inelegant fashion, especially with the release of those pesky photos from Abu Ghraib hitting the airwaves. So an obscene lie was told to Tillman's family, his friends and the American public. The chickenhawks in charge, whose only exposure to war was watching John Wayne movies, claimed that he died charging a hill and was cut down by the radical Islamic enemies of freedom. In the weeks preceding his death, Tillman was beginning to question what exactly he was fighting for, telling friends that he believed the war in Iraq was " [expletive] illegal." He may not have known what he was fighting for, but it's now clear what he died for: public relations. Today, after five years, six investigations and two Congressional hearings, questions still linger about how Tillman died and why it was covered up.
Now the man who greased the chain of command that orchestrated this great deception is prepared to assume total control of US operations in Afghanistan: Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal. It was McChrystal who approved Tillman's posthumous Silver Star, a medal given explicitly for combat, even though he later testified that he "suspected" friendly fire.
Yet despite this, both Democrats and Republicans are rushing to heap praise on McChrystal, including Sen. John McCain. It was McCain who rushed to speak at Tillman's funeral and then, when the cover-up became known, pledged to help the Tillman family expose the truth. McCain later turned his back on the Tillmans when they raised the volume and demanded answers. As Pat's mother, Mary Tillman, said last year, "He definitely eased out of the situation. He didn't blatantly say he wouldn't help us, it's just that it became clear that he kind of drifted away."
And now the Tillman family, amidst bipartisan praise for Obama's new general, must once again raise the inconvenient truth.
Pat's father, Pat Tillman Sr., told the Associated Press, "I do believe that guy participated in a falsified homicide investigation."
Mary Tillman, who excoriated McChrystal in her book, Boots on the Ground by Dusk: My Tribute to Pat Tillman, said, "It is imperative that Lt. Gen. McChrystal be scrutinized carefully during the Senate hearings."
Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said in response:
We feel terrible for what the Tillman family went through, but this matter has been investigated thoroughly by the Pentagon, by the Congress, by outside experts, and all of them have come to the same conclusion: that there was no wrongdoing by Gen. McChrystal.
Morrell's statement has more spin than a washing machine powered by a V-8 engine. McChrystal has never explained why the early reports of Tillman's death were covered up, why his clothes and field journal were burned and destroyed on the scene or why Pat's brother Kevin, serving alongside him in the Rangers, was lied to on the spot. Even the cover-up was covered up. This should be a cause for dismissal--or indictment--not promotion.
What particularly rankles about Obama's choice of McChrystal, whose background is in the nefarious and shadowy world of "black ops," is that his actions in the Tillman cover-up feel emblematic instead of exceptional.
When an anonymous Army interrogator "at great personal risk" blew the whistle to Esquire in August 2006 on an extensive torture enterprise at Camp Nama, he described the then unknown McChrystal as being an overseer who knew the ugly truth. Torture at Camp Nama included using ice water to induce hypothermia. It was not a rogue operation unless we consider Generals like McChrystal "rogues." As Esquire reported:
Once, somebody brought it up with the colonel. "Will [the Red Cross] ever be allowed in here?" And he said absolutely not. He had this directly from General McChrystal and the Pentagon that there's no way that the Red Cross could get in--they won't have access and they never will. This facility was completely closed off to anybody investigating, even Army investigators.
Later in the piece, when asked where the colonel was getting his orders from the interrogator said, "I believe it was a two-star general. I believe his name was General McChrystal. I saw him there a couple of times."
Clearly President Obama is trying to "own" the war in Afghanistan: upping the troop levels, making it his "central front" in the battle against terrorism and now placing his own general in charge. But the president is also disappointing a generation of antiwar activists who voted for him expecting an end to imperial adventures and torture sanctioned by the executive branch. Now a man who should perhaps be on trial at the Hague is in charge of Afghanistan. Obama needs to know it's not just the Tillmans who are enraged by this terrible choice.