Comrades who killed football star Tillman were visually impaired, says latest report

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The Independent US

When Pat Tillman, an American football hero, joined up in the wake of the September 11 terror attacks, the Pentagon rushed to praise him. "It is a proud and patriotic thing you are doing," said the Secretary of Defence, Donald Rumsfeld. In investigating his "friendly-fire" death in 2004, however, America's brass has been fumbling and evasive.

At last, however, the veil that has shrouded what is surely the most iconic of all the losses taken by the American military since 9/11 is about to be lifted. And what the American public is about to find out is not pretty - at least two of the American soldiers involved were visually impaired.

These and other shocking revelations are contained in what will be the fourth investigation by the American military into what exactly occurred in a remote canyon in eastern Afghanistan in April 2004, when Mr Tillman died after being fired on by members of his own unit.

While the findings of the newest investigation have yet to be published, some of its contents were reported yesterday by the Associated Press, which gained access to a draft copy. The report clearly indicates that all four of those who fired their guns that day had failed to identify their target first. Tragically, it turned out to be Mr Tillman and an Afghan ally.

"Cease fire, friendlies, I am Pat (expletive) Tillman, damn it," the former athlete reportedly screamed to his own men as they roared towards him and the Afghan after their Army Ranger unit had been divided into two groups because of problems with a broken-down vehicle.

While no one apparently heard the appeals of Mr Tillman, at least two men may not even have been able to see him properly. The report says that one of the four shooters, Staff Sgt Trevor Alders, had undergone laser eye surgery shortly before the incident. He later testified that while he could see the hands in front of him "straight up", his vision was otherwise "hazy".

Meanwhile, a second American at the scene, squad leader Sgt Greg Baker, also had eyesight problems. While he claimed to have 20-20 vision, he also suffered from "tunnel vision", meaning he had trouble seeing things on the peripheries of his field of view. He said later that he had "zoned in" on the Afghan standing next to Mr Tillman.

The American military's attempts to get to the bottom of the death Mr Tillman - and offer some credible explanation to his family back home, including his brother Kevin Tillman, who also joined up after 9/11 - have increasingly looked like an exercise in half-truths, and even cover-ups. The Pentagon took a month to even admit that he had died because of friendly fire.

"I will not assume his death was an accident of 'fog of war', his father, Pat Tillman Snr, told the Associated Press. "I want to know what happened, and they've clouded that so badly we may never know."

After the Tillman family expressed dissatisfaction with three earlier investigations into the incident, the latest investigation was launched in March this year with the participation of the army's Criminal Investigation Command (CID). One investigator reportedly told the family this year that Mr Tillman might even have been deliberately murdered. At the very least, everything points to serious errors in the conduct of the soldiers on the ground, and of their commanders. The soldiers had run so low on rations, they only had water in drinking pouches and had been forced to buy a goat to eat.

According to a field hospital report, somebody tried to start Mr Tillman's heart through CPR, hours after his head had been partly blown off and his body wrapped in a poncho. His body armour and uniform were burnt, destroying key evidence.

Tragedy might have been averted but for the breakdown of the vehicle and the subsequent decision by the company's commander, Captain William Saunders, to split the unit.

"If anything, the sense of urgency was as deadly to Tillman as the bullet that cut his life short," Mr Alders wrote in his statement for army investigators. "We were rushed to conduct an operation that had such flaws, which in the end would prove fatal."