Controversial Tillman Commander Promoted, Soldiers Allege Ordered "360 Rotational" Civilian Massacres
A controversial commander who helped recommend Pat Tillman for the Silver Star as part of a campaign to glamorize Tillman's death has been promoted to full colonel.
"Libby native Lt. Col. Ralph Kauzlarich, the deputy chief of staff-effects coordinator for the 1st Infantry Division, was promoted to colonel during a recent ceremony in Basra, Iraq."
Col. Kauzlarich came under fire when he suggested that the family's relentless pursuit of the truth of their son's death, by "friendly fire," was due to the fact that they were not Christians. In a famous 2006 interview with ESPN, the openly Evangelical Kauzlarich told the interviewer:
"these people have a hard time letting it go. It may be because of their religious beliefs...When you die, I mean, there is supposedly a better life, right? Well, if you are an atheist and you don't believe in anything, if you die, what is there to go to? Nothing. You are worm dirt.
Upon hearing of the remarks, Tillman's mother, Mary "Dannie" Tillman, said:
"Oh, it has nothing to do with the fact that this whole thing is shady, but it is because we are not Christians."
A major public relations fiasco resulted for the Pentagon when the Tillmans learned that Pat's death had been used to promote wars he had turned against, in Iraq and Afghanistan. A three-star general was demoted, and the scandal became the subject of the movie "The Tillman Story."
Kauzlarich is also in the news as the commander who now three soldiers say gave the order to kill civilians on the street in Iraq in the event a patrol was hit by an IED, as an "SOP," a standard operating procedure. After his deployment to Afghanistan Kauzlarich became the commander of the "2-16," 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, the "Rangers." Kauzlarich is the focus of a recent book by Pulitzer winner David Finkel, "The Good Soldiers" which follows the 2-16 at the height of the 2007 "surge" in New Baghdad. The soldiers say the order was to open fire in a "360 rotational" pattern, and to "kill every motherf*cker on the street." It was Kauzlarich who invited Finkel to Iraq to write his story, according t soldiers in the unit.
The soldiers, who have been speaking out publicly, describe the tension within the unit over the order, and the agreement among some to fire into the rooftops of buildings instead. One soldier, Ray Corcales, said: "You don't even know if somebody's shooting at you. It's just insanity to just start shooting people." Another, Ethan McCord, tells audiences "a lot of soldiers wouldn't do it." The third soldier is Josh Stieber.
Orders to kill civilians in retaliation for attacks on occupying forces have been successfully prosecuted as a war crime. After WW II German SS Obersturmbannführer Herbert Kappler was sentenced to life in prison for ordering the execution of civilians, after a bomb hidden in a trash container by Italian partisans killed 28 German soldiers. The soldiers who carried out the order and testified against Kappler were granted immunity, and the doctrine of command responsibility, or the Yamashita Standard , was invoked, which holds high-level officers responsible for war crimes committed by their men.
The cover-up of Tillman's death by friendly fire and its conversion into propaganda came just as the Bush administration knew the Abu Ghraib scandal was about to break. The combination of the NFL football star's death by "friendly fire" and the prisoner abuse scandal would have been a double blow to the administration, at a time when much of the public was still nervous about the new involvement in Iraq. Tillman's brother Kevin, upon breaking his silence on his brother's death, said:
"There was one problem with the narrative. It was utter fiction. The narrative was meant to deceive the family and more importantly, to deceive the American public."
Regarding Kauzlarich's religious remarks, Tillman's mother said to ESPN that the family was spiritual, but did not subscribe to many aspects of organized religion. In an emotional moment she told ESPN:
"Pat may not have been what you call a Christian. He was about the best person I ever knew. I mean, he was just a good guy. He didn't lie. He was very honest. He was very generous. He was very humble. I mean, he had an ego, but it was a healthy ego. It is like, everything those [people] are, he wasn't."
The truth of Tillman's death by friendly fire was withheld from the family long enough to conduct a nationally televised memorial service in which he was cast as a hero in the "war on terror." What was not revealed, but well-known among Tillman's comrades, was that he had soured on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (he served in both) and called the Iraq War "fucking illegal." It has been confirmed Tillman had an appointment with Noam Chomsky upon his return to the states, possibly as a prelude to taking a public position against the wars.
The Tillman episode draws frequent comparisons to the Bush administration's glamorization of the rescue of Private Jessica Lynch in Iraq in 2004, which was portrayed as a daring operation, but later revealed to be staged, down to blanks being fired and a film crew inexplicably present. Lynch, who spoke out later about the "lies" put forth by the government, said:
"It does [bother me] that they used me as a way to symbolize all this stuff. It's wrong. I don't know why they filmed it."
McCord, Stieber, and Corcales take pains to place a great share of the blame for wartime atrocities on a "system" they say the Army uses to teach soldiers to "dehumanize" those who they are told are "the enemy." McCord tells audiences, "What the Army does, it does very well." He recalls a marching cadence using commonly during basic training:
we went to the market where all the hadji shop,
pulled out our machetes and we began to chop,
we went to the playground where all the hadji play,
pulled out our machine guns and we began to spray,
we went to the mosque where all the hadji pray,
threw in a hand grenade and blew them all away.
McCord first gained notoriety as the soldier seen a Wikileaks video leaked by Private Bradley Manning, now awaiting trial for disseminating classified information. McCord is seen in the grainy video as the soldier running to help two children who had been wounded in an Apache helicopter attack on a van, and on men attempting to evacuate a wounded man. Care of the wounded and protection of those attempting to evacuate them is among the oldest laws of war, dating back to the Geneva Convention of 1864 which states that:
"Members of the armed forces and other persons (...) who are wounded or sick, shall be respected and protected in all circumstances...Any attempts upon their lives, or violence to their persons, shall be strictly prohibited"
In the Wikileaks video, the Apache gunner is heard to say "pick up a weapon, just pick up a weapon" at the dying man on the ground who is attempting to crawl away, although no weapons are anywhere visible. In emails to the man who eventually turned him into the authorities, Manning is most concerned with this attack, rather than the one just preceding it, which drew far more news attention. Manning said to Charles Lemos in an email:
"At first glance it was just a bunch of guys getting shot up by a helicopter...No big deal ... about two dozen more where that came from, right? But something struck me as odd with the van thing, and also the fact it was being stored in a JAG officer's directory. So I looked into it."
JAG is the Judge Advocate General, a military prosecutor. Manning is being held incommunicado at Quantico Marine Base in VA. He once wrote to Lemos that his greatest worry if he were caught as the leaker was to "Try and figure out how I could get my side of the story out, before everything was twisted around to make me look like Nidal Hassan [the Ft. Hood shooter.]"
Col. Kauzlarich's involvement in the Tillman affair runs deep. The 2006 ESPN series said:
Kauzlarich, now 40, was the Ranger regiment executive officer in Afghanistan, making him ultimately responsible for the conduct of the fateful operation in which Pat Tillman died. Kauzlarich later played a role in writing the recommendation for the posthumous Silver Star. And finally, with his fingerprints already all over many of the hot-button issues, including the question of who ordered the platoon to be split as it dragged a disabled Humvee through the mountains, Kauzlarich conducted the first official Army investigation into Tillman's death.
Later Kauzlarich feigned ignorance over the true circumstances of Tillman's death, and said of his recommendation for the Silver Star, which cannot be awarded in instances of "friendly fire":
"I mean, had the story come out that he had been killed by his own guys, then it probably would have been looked at differently."
However, a timeline of the Tillman incident shows that friendly fire was immediately suspected, and reported the same day Tillman was killed. Capt. Richard Scott was assigned as the investigating officer for a possible fratricide the day after Tillman's death on April 22, 2004. Tillman's Silver Star recommendation was submitted on April 29. It is not known if the investigating officer was assigned by Kauzlarich himself.
As the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq drag on at a cost so far of about $30,000 to $40,000 per family, efforts continue to hold the Bush administration accountable for the deceptions used in selling the war in Iraq, even as former administration officials position themselves in ways which seem calculated to deflect blame. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell recently told a Japanese newspaper that he believed that in his famous UN speech when held up a vial of anthrax as proof of Saddam's capability in biological weapons: "I regret that it was wrong but, at the same time, we had every reason to believe it was correct."
But a German intelligence officer who was in charge of the handling of "Curveball," the Iraqi defector on whose information Powell's claim was based, told the L.A. Times: "We were shocked. Mein Gott! We had always told them it was not proven.... It was not hard intelligence."
On the duration of the Iraq War Donald Rumsfeld said in November of 2002: "Five days or five weeks or five months, but it certainly isn't going to last any longer than that."
"The Tillman Story" has unleashed waves of emotion across the country, as audiences learn of the NFL star's unusual character and integrity in a nation now accustomed to cynical politics. The 19-year-old soldier who was next to Tillman when he was killed recounts how Tillman saved his life, by endangering his own, and moving out from "pretty good cover." The soldier, Spf. Bryan O'Neal, said:
"I was watching them as they were shooting at me...and I was watching the rounds when they were -- and Pat could look around -- and I was noticing that most of their fire seemed to be directed towards me. And he moved out from behind his cover to throw some smoke....All I remember was him telling me, 'Hey, don't worry, I've got something that can help us.' And he popped a smoke [grenade], I guess, and that's when he got shot -- one of the few times he got shot."
Fighting back tears O'Neal said "The only reason I am standing here is because Pat Tillman saved my life."
After Tillman's death, President George Bush addressed Tillman's mourning fans on the Arizona Cardinals Jumbotron, saying he had made the "ultimate sacrifice" in the "war on terror."
As McCord , Stieber, and Corcales continue to speak out publicly , I have contacted at least four members of the House of Representatives and Senator John Kerry's office about their testimony, and asked them to commence an investigation on now-Col. Ralph Kauzlarich on the order for "360 rotational fire." I have asked them to grant immunity to lower ranking soldiers who testify and to invoke the Yamashita Standard , which holds a commander alone responsible for the actions of his men. We do not want scapegoats. The time has come to prosecute those who give the illegal orders, not just those, often far too young, who carry them out.
To date none of these congressional offices have responded. Stieber and McCord are the authors of an Open Letter of Reconciliation to the Iraqi People, in which they bear responsibility for their role in carrying out U.S. policy, saying:
"We did unto you what we would not want done to us. More and more Americans are taking responsibility for what was done in our name. Though we have acted with cold hearts far too many times, we have not forgotten our actions towards you. Our heavy hearts still hold hope that we can restore inside our country the acknowledgment of your humanity, that we were taught to deny...."
Let congress bear its the responsibility to the oath of their office half as well as these young men have borne their responsibility to the law, to their nation's prestige, and to humanity.