General apologizes during hearings

Updated: June 2, 2009, 6:32 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

WASHINGTON -- The general who was in charge of U.S. special operations in Afghanistan at the time former NFL star Pat Tillman was killed by friendly fire in 2004 admitted that circumstances should have been handled differently.

Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal is in line to take over as the top commander of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan. During Tuesday's confirmation hearings before the Senate Armed Services Committee, McChrystal was questioned about the events that took place after Tillman's death on April 22, 2004.

Tillman's parents have accused McChrystal of covering up the circumstances of their son's death. McChrystal maintained that he was unaware of any intentional deception in Army accounts of Tillman's death. According to Pentagon testimony, however, McChrystal approved paperwork awarding Tillman the Silver Star even after he suspected that the Ranger and former Arizona Cardinal actually had been killed accidentally by fellow American soldiers on a battlefield in Afghanistan.

"The whole point was to lie to the public," Tillman's mother Mary told ESPN.

An investigation of the case found McChrystal accountable for "inaccurate and misleading assertions."

During the hearings, McChrystal was asked about the Tillman citation by Sen. John McCain, the committee's ranking Republican.

McChrystal admitted that paperwork for the award was "not well written," and he apologized for the confusion it caused. He added that in retrospect, he would have done things differently and made sure the award citation was accurate.

Mary Tillman expressed frustration at the McChrystal hearing, saying the failure of McCain -- who attended the 2004 memorial for her son -- to follow up on the questioning was troubling.

"He should have been outraged at the charade," Mary Tillman told ESPN. "Why didn't McCain ask McChrystal why he didn't intervene [when the inaccurate account of the death was prepared for the memorial]?"

The committee's failure to press McChrystal, Mary Tillman said, indicates "nobody cares about anyone's character or past behavior."

Sen. James Webb, a Democrat from Virginia, did direct a sharper line of questioning Tuesday. During the hearing, Webb said: "This was a situation where a very special American with a unique intellectual and athletic background forewent millions of dollars in order to serve his country and there was a period where I believe the Army failed their family."

McChrystal agreed with Webb, apologizing to the Tillman family during testimony. "We failed the family ... I apologize for that. And I would say that there is nothing we can do to automatically restore the trust which was the second casualty of 22nd of April. The first was a loss of a great American and the second was the loss of the trust of an American family."

Mary Tillman, on her continued efforts to keep alive the search for truth surrounding her son's death: "Pat's already dead, this is for everybody else."

Information from Willie Weinbaum of the ESPN Enterprise Unit and The Associated Press was used in this report.

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