Censured general evades subpoena to appear before Tillman hearing
Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) revealed in a Wednesday hearing that Lieutenant General Philip Kensinger, who was censured Tuesday by the Army for deceiving investigators regarding the announcement of the death of Army Specialist Pat Tillman, has evaded a subpoena issued by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
"General Kensinger refused to appear today," Chairman Waxman said in his opening statement. "His attorney informed the committee that General Kensinger would not testify voluntarily, and if issued a subpoena would seek to evade service. The committee did issue a subpoena to General Kensinger earlier this week, but US Marshals have been unable to locate or serve him."
The announcement came at the start of a hearing on the friendly fire death of Tillman, an NFL player who joined the Army after the 9/11 attacks. At the time, Tillman's example was highlighted by the Bush administration to praise the heroism of Americans voluntarily fighting in the 'Global War on Terrorism' before fratricide was revealed to be the cause of his death. Wednesday's hearing focused on what Defense Department officials knew about the cause of Tillman's death.
The hearing included testimony from ex-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, appearing in this public setting for the first time since his November 2006 resignation. Rumsfeld had told the committee he would not appear before the committee until late Tuesday night when he changed his schedule.
Also appearing before the committee were Gen. John P. Abizaid (Retired), Former Commander, U.S. Central Command, Gen. Richard B. Myers (Retired), Former Chair, Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gen. Bryan Douglas Brown (Retired), Former Commander, U.S. Special Operations Command.
While Waxman praised the witnesses for attending the hearing, and the Army for pressing its investigation, he also criticized the White House for failing to provide more information to the committee.
"The concealment of Corporal Tillman's fratricide caused millions of Americans to question the integrity of our government, but no one will tell us how and when the White House learned the truth," the California Democrat said.
Subdued Rumsfeld offers several 'I do not recalls'
Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA) offered his own harsh remarks on the manner of the announcement of Tillman's death.
"Testimony from our previous hearing, and the results of six separate Army investigations all showed the tragic truth can only fall somewhere between screw-up and cover-up, between rampant incompetence and elaborate conspiracy," the Ranking Republican on the committee forcefully stated. "And once you're descending that continuum, it almost doesn't matter whether the failure to follow Army regulations...was inadvertent, negligent, or intentional."
But while Davis assailed the Pentagon's secrecy, he was defensive of the White House.
"Nothing in our inquiry thus far demonstrates that the Defense Secretary or the White House were aware that this was a friendly fire incident before late May ," the Virginia Republican said. "That we have not learned otherwise may perplex those who assumed the worst given the gross mishandling of this tragedy."
After being sworn in, Rumsfeld offered a brief opening statement in which he expressed his regrets about the manner in which the Tillman family was notified of the Corporal's death.
But, he insisted that he did not recall much about the circumstances beyond the statement he had already presented to the Pentagon's Acting Inspector General in December 2006.
"I do not recall when I first learned about the possibility that Corporal Tillman's death might have resulted from fratricide," he read from the memo.
He also acknowledged that he was informed of Tillman's friendly fire death on May 20, 6 days before the Tillman family was notified.
Following terse opening statements from the other witnesses, Rumsfeld then received extensive questioning from Rep. Davis. He also said he could not recall the details during the questioning.
"I don't recall precisely how I learned he was killed - it could have been internally, it could have been through the press, it was something that obviously received a great deal of attention," he told Rep. Davis.
He also stated he had 'no recollection' of discussing the matter with the White House until after it was revealed that Tillman had died from friendly fire.
Rumsfeld went on to say that he did not have any recollection of seeing the 'Personal-4' or 'P-4' memo from Afghanistan which warned senior leaders that Tillman's death may have been caused by fratricide.
The ex-Secretary of Defense went on to answer a variety of questions about his complaints about the notification process on Tillman's death. He continued to express regret through the questioning with Davis.
"It is a most unfortunate situation that anyone has to agree is something that the department has to find ways to avoid in the future," he told the ranking minority member.
Congressman challenges timeline on notification
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) was not fully satisfied with Rumsfeld's explanation, and challenged how it was he was not informed until May 20 of the friendly fire incident.
"At least 30 people knew, including some of the highest ranking military officials in our government," Cummings pointed out. "If this was common knowledge among the top military ranks, Secretary Rumsfeld, something that was talked about across the backyard fences, how is it you didn't know?"
Rumsfeld responded that there were 3 million people in the Department of Defense.
"It's not possible for someone to know all the things that are going on," he said.
Cummings was dubious, pointing back to Rep. Carolyn Maloney's (D-NY) earlier referencing of memos written by Rumsfeld showing that he was aware of Tillman's career in particular because of his story as an athlete-turned-soldier.
"I would not be asking you these questions if it were not for the fact that we had a hero here, one that you were well aware of," the Maryland Democrat responded.
Cummings' questions eventually caused some of Rumsfeld's traditionally feisty spirit to emerge.
"I know that I would not engage in a cover up," he said with some anger in his voice. "I know that no one in the White House suggested such a thing to me. I know that the gentlemen sitting next to me are men of enormous integrity, and would not participate in something like that."