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Army Re-Examines Casualty Reports

Specialist Pat Tillman marches during 2002 graduation ceremonies at Fort Benning, Ga. Tillman, the former Arizona Cardinals star who walked away from a multimillion-dollar NFL contract to serve with the Army Rangers, was killed in Afghanistan in 2004.

AP
A new review of reports on Army soldiers killed in combat has uncovered none that differ significantly from the information initially given to family members, Army officials said Friday.

The review, which began about a month ago, covers about 500 reports and marks the first step in a new process being ordered by Army Secretary Francis Harvey to ensure that families receive accurate information about how U.S. soldiers died in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"We know that out of roughly 2,000 deaths, the error rate is probably under 1 percent, but even if it's a single case, it's too many. That is the bottom line," Col. Patrick Gawkins, chief of the Casualty and Memorial Affairs Operations Center, told The Associated Press on Friday.

He said it was impossible to provide an exact number, partly because Harvey is about to order all Army unit commanders to send a list of their combat deaths to the Casualty Center. There, an officer will review the cases to make sure the conclusions match what families of the deceased have been told.

The changes come in the wake of several high profile instances — including the death of Cpl. Pat Tillman, the former Arizona Cardinals NFL star — in which families were given erroneous or old information about the circumstances surrounding the death.

"I think part of the reason they are doing it is they are afraid people are going to start asking questions and they better have the answers. So now they are backtracking because they know there are cases out there that they haven't been honest about," says Tillman's mother, Mary.




The family of Sgt. Patrick McCaffrey was first told he was killed by insurgents, but then learned he was murdered by the Iraqi forces he was training, reports CBS News correspondent Wyatt Andrews. The full truth didn't come out until his mother demanded answers and the Army delivered a satchel of documents confirming it was homicide.

"I think it's our right, it's my right as a family (member) to have the truth," said McCaffrey's mother, Nadia. "I cannot live without knowing the truth."

First reported Thursday by the AP, the draft of the new order initially asked units to send the full reports to the center, but officials decided it would be more efficient for them to just send lists. The order is likely to be issued within a week, said Army spokesman Paul Boyce.

In April, Harvey ordered the Army to begin doing a unit-level investigation on every soldier's death, rather than only under certain circumstances.

The 500 reports reviewed so far are from the Army's Criminal Investigations Command, and usually involved suspicious circumstances. About 100 more of those have yet to be reviewed.

Gawkins said it is unclear how many reports will be identified by the Army units, or how long the entire review will take.

Nearly 1,800 Army soldiers have died in Iraq since the war began in March 2003; about 240 have died in Afghanistan. Overall, more than 2,600 U.S. military members have died since the start of the Iraq war.

The issue of misinformation recently resurfaced when Army officials revealed that two California National Guardsmen, Lt. Andre Tyson and Spc. Patrick McCaffrey, were murdered in June 2004 by the Iraqi civil-defense soldiers they were training. The Army initially told the men's families that they were killed in an enemy ambush.

It was two years before the guardsmen's families were told the truth: Their sons had been slain, not killed in a conventional ambush.

Nadia McCaffrey, who speaks regularly with an informal network of other mothers whose sons have been killed in combat but have no details of their deaths, said the Army has a long way to go to restore its credibility. But she said the new review is healthy.

"The pressure's been applied," McCaffrey said Friday in a telephone interview from her home in Scott, Calif. "They will have to really do something, they will have furnish some explanation, and not any explanation, because they're going to be watched."

Tillman, who quit football to join the U.S. Army Rangers, was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan in April 2004. His family initially was told he died in an enemy ambush.

If, through the review, the Army finds a discrepancy between what a family was told and what an investigation found, it will reappoint a casualty notification team, prepare a new report and revisit the family to make personal notifications.