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Film revisits Tillman controversy

August 11, 2010 - Jim Anderson

“The Tillman Story” is scheduled for (limited) release in theaters on Aug. 20. It’s a documentary about a family’s tenacious search for truth.

Pat Tillman, the Arizona Cardinals safety who famously enlisted in the Army in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, was killed by friendly fire in the mountains of Afghanistan in April 2004.

The original title of the film was “I’m Pat __ Tillman.”  According to some accounts, those words, with a missing expletive, constituted Tillman’s futile attempt to identify himself to the fellow troops who would kill him.

The military went to great lengths to claim that Tillman died heroically in a firefight with the Taliban. He was posthumously awarded the Silver Star, the Army’s third-highest award for combat valor.

According to the Associated Press, then Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal approved the Silver Star citation. It gave a detailed account of Tillman's death, including the phrase "in the line of devastating enemy fire.” But the next day McChrystal sent a memo warning senior government members that Tillman might actually have been killed by friendly fire.

McChrystal, who went on to become U.S. commander in Afghanistan (and who recently resigned over an entirely different matter), doesn’t offer his side of the story in the film. He was given the chance, according to director Amir Bar-Lev.

In fact, with just one exception, no military personnel agreed to be interviewed, the filmmakers say.

Reviews for “The Tillman Story” are decidedly positive.

“The Tillman Story illustrates the amazing lengths the Pentagon went to in order to hide the details of that killing, not just from the American people but also from his bereaved family,” writes Ray Greene of Box Office Magazine.

Michael Moore has said the film is “one of the most important movies you'll ever see about the U.S. military.” Which, I suppose, may be reason enough for some folks to hate it.

There are many layers to Tillman’s story. “.... It's a story that challenges us to understand 'hero' in more complex ways,” Bar-Lev told PBS last month.

There are also many layers to the controversies this film may re-ignite.

In 2008, the House Oversight Committee released a report on its investigation into Tillman’s death and the Pentagon deceptions. The report said the committee was unable to resolve “the key issue of what senior officials knew” because of the “near universal” memory loss suffered by those who testified.

“This is an unsolved mystery; nobody has ever really paid a price for what was done to the Tillmans,” Bar-Lev says. “No one has taken accountability or made an admission for a deliberate attempt to conceal the truth. This story is not over yet.”

(Whether the film ever plays locally may depend on how it's received elsewhere. If it becomes very popular, the distributor will make more prints available to theaters across the nation, according to Tri-City Cinemas 8 in Quinnesec.)



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