A "striking lack of recollection" by White House and military officials prevented congressional investigators from determining who was responsible for misinformation spread to the media and public -- family -- after the friendly fire death of Army Ranger Pat Tillman, a House committee said Monday.
Although military investigators determined within days that the onetime NFL player was killed by his own troops in Afghanistan following an enemy ambush, five weeks passed before the circumstances of his death were made public. During that time, the Army claimed Tillman was killed by enemy fire.
Rep. Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, said in April 2007 that his goal was to discern the genesis of the misinformation. "Was it the result of incompetence, miscommunication or a deliberate strategy?" he said.
The panel acknowledged Monday it had fallen short of this goal. The committee received a flurry of White House e-mails sent as the Bush administration responded to Tillman's death, but no documents about friendly fire. The committee interviewed several top White House officials about the case, but "not a single one could recall when he learned about the fratricide or what he did in response," it said in its 48-page report.
The committee reported a similar lack of information relating to misinformation surrounding Pvt. Jessica Lynch, who was rescued from an Iraqi hospital after she was badly injured and captured in a 2003 ambush. The committee examined how the story of the ambush of her convoy was changed into a tale of heroism on her part.
"As the committee investigated the Tillman and Lynch cases, it encountered a striking lack of recollection," the report said.
The panel concluded that the lack of information "makes it impossible for the committee to assign responsibility for the misinformation in Corporal Tillman's and Private Lynch's cases."
Jim Wilkinson, a onetime White House official who was communications director for U.S. Central Command, told the committee he did not know where the false information on Lynch originated, or who disseminated it.
The committee cited one exchange between White House political chief Karl Rove and Ron Fournier, then a political reporter for The Associated Press.
In a chain under the subject line "H-E-R-O," Rove replied to an e-mail from Fournier by saying, "How does our country continue to produce men and women like this?"
Fournier replied, "The Lord creates men and women like this all over the world. But only the great and free countries allow them to flourish. Keep up the fight."
Fournier, now the AP's acting Washington bureau chief, said Monday: "I was an AP political reporter at the time of the 2004 e-mail exchange, and was interacting with a source, a top aide to the president, in the course of following an important and compelling story. I regret the breezy nature of the correspondence."
In the case of Tillman's April 22, 2004, death, White House officials generated nearly 200 e-mails on the matter the day after, the committee found. Politics seemed to fuel the administration's interest: Several of the e-mails came from the staff of President Bush's re-election campaign, urging Bush to respond publicly.
The White House "rushed" to release a public statement of condolence at about noon on April 23.
But in doing so, the White House violated a military policy enacted into law by Bush himself in 2003, the committee found. The Military Family Peace of Mind Act bars the announcement of a casualty until 24 hours after a family is notified.
The Defense Department, adhering to the policy, had not yet publicly confirmed Tillman's death when the White House released Bush's statement of condolence. …