Startling findings in Tillman probe
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    Exclamation Startling findings in Tillman probe

    Startling findings in Tillman probe
    Associated Press Writers

    In a remote and dangerous corner of Afghanistan, under the protective roar of Apache attack helicopters and B-52 bombers, special agents and investigators did their work. They walked the landscape with surviving witnesses. They found a rock stained with the blood of the victim. They re-enacted the killings - here the U.S. Army Rangers swept through the canyon in their Humvee, blasting away; here the doomed man waved his arms, pleading for recognition as a friend, not an enemy.

    "Cease fire, friendlies, I am Pat (expletive) Tillman, damn it!" he shouted, again and again.

    The latest inquiry into Tillman's death by friendly fire should end next month; authorities have said they intend to release to the public only a synopsis of their report. But The Associated Press has combed through the results of 2 1/4 years of investigations - reviewed thousands of pages of internal Army documents, interviewed dozens of people familiar with the case - and uncovered some startling findings.

    One of the four shooters, Staff Sgt. Trevor Alders, had recently had PRK laser eye surgery. Although he could see two sets of hands "straight up," his vision was "hazy," he said. In the absence of "friendly identifying signals," he assumed Tillman and an allied Afghan who also was killed were enemy.

    Another, Spc. Steve Elliott, said he was "excited" by the sight of rifles, muzzle flashes and "shapes." A third, Spc. Stephen Ashpole, said he saw two figures, and just aimed where everyone else was shooting.

    Squad leader Sgt. Greg Baker had 20-20 eyesight, but claimed he had "tunnel vision." Amid the chaos and pumping adrenaline, Baker said he hammered what he thought was the enemy but was actually the allied Afghan fighter next to Tillman who was trying to give the Americans cover: "I zoned in on him because I could see the AK-47. I focused only on him."

    All four failed to identify their targets before firing, a direct violation of the fire discipline techniques drilled into every soldier.

    There's more:

    - Tillman's platoon had nearly run out of vital supplies, according to one of the shooters. They were down to the water in their Camelbak drinking pouches, and were forced to buy a goat from a local vendor. Delayed supply flights contributed to the hunger, fatigue and possibly misjudgments by platoon members.

    - A key commander in the events that led to Tillman's death both was reprimanded for his role and meted out punishments to those who fired, raising questions of conflict of interest.

    - A field hospital report says someone tried to jump-start Tillman's heart with CPR hours after his head had been partly blown off and his corpse wrapped in a poncho; key evidence including Tillman's body armor and uniform was burned.

    - Investigators have been stymied because some of those involved now have lawyers and refused to cooperate, and other soldiers who were at the scene couldn't be located.

    - Three of the four shooters are now out of the Army, and essentially beyond the reach of military justice.

    Taken together, these findings raise more questions than they answer, in a case that already had veered from suggestions that it all was a result of the "fog of war" to insinuations that criminal acts were to blame.

    The Pentagon's failure to reveal for more than a month that Tillman was killed by friendly fire have raised suspicions of a coverup. To Tillman's family, there is little doubt that his death was more than an innocent mistake.

    One investigator told the Tillmans that it hadn't been ruled out that Tillman was shot by an American sniper or deliberately murdered by his own men - though he also gave no indication the evidence pointed that way.

    "I will not assume his death was accidental or 'fog of war,'" said his father, Pat Tillman Sr. "I want to know what happened, and they've clouded that so badly we may never know."

    And so, almost two years after three bullets through the forehead killed the star defensive back - a man who President Bush would call "an inspiration on and off the football field" - the fourth investigation began.

    This time, the investigators are supposed to think like prosecutors:

    Who fired the shots that killed Pat Tillman, and why?

    Who insisted Tillman's platoon split and travel through dangerous territory in daylight, against its own policy? Who let the command slip away and chaos engulf the unit?

    And perhaps most of all: Was a crime committed?

    The long and complicated story of Pat Tillman's death and the investigations it spawned began five years ago, in the smoking ruins of the World Trade Center.

    "It is a proud and patriotic thing you are doing," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld wrote to Tillman in 2002, after Tillman - shocked and outraged by the Sept. 11 attacks - turned down a multimillion-dollar contract with the Arizona Cardinals to join the elite Army Rangers.

    The San Jose, Calif. native enlisted with his brother Kevin, who gave up his own chance to play professional baseball. The Tillmans were deployed to Iraq in 2003, then sent to Afghanistan.

    The mission of their "Black Sheep" platoon in April 2004 sounded straightforward: Divide a region along the Pakistan border into zones, then check each grid for insurgents and weapons. They were to clear two zones and then move deeper into Afghanistan.

    But a broken-down Humvee known as a Ground Mobility Vehicle, or GMV, stalled the unit on an isolated road. A mechanic couldn't fix it, and a fuel pump flown in on a helicopter didn't help.

    Hours passed. Enemy fighters watched invisibly, plotting their ambush.

    Tillman's platoon must have presented an inviting target. There were 39 men - including six allied Afghan fighters trained by the CIA - and about a dozen vehicles.

    Impatience was rising at the tactical operations center at Forward Operating Base Salerno, near Khowst, Afghanistan, where officers coordinated the movements of several platoons. Led by then-Maj. David Hodne, the so-called Cross-Functional Team worked at a U-shaped table inside a 20-by-30-foot tent with a projection screen and a satellite radio.

    (Hodne, now a lieutenant colonel and executive officer for the 75th Ranger Regiment, declined to be interviewed on the record by the AP - as did nearly every person involved in the incident.)

    When the Humvee broke down, the Black Sheep were nearing the end of their assignment; all that was left was to "turn one last stone and then get out," Hodne would testify. The unit was then to head for Manah, a small village where it would spend the night.

    The commanders had already given the Black Sheep an extra day to get into its grid zones. High-ranking commanders were "pushing us pretty hard to keep moving," said Hodne.

    "We had better not have any more delays due to this vehicle," he told his subordinates.

    At the operations center, the Black Sheep's company commander, then-Capt. William C. "Satch" Saunders, was feeling the heat to get the platoon moving.

    "We wanted to make sure we had a force staged to confirm or deny any enemy presence in Manah the next day, so we would not get ourselves too far behind setting ourselves up for our next series of operations," he recalled later to an investigator.

    The order came down to split the platoon in two to speed its progress.

    Saunders initially told investigators that Hodne had issued the order, but later, after he was given immunity from prosecution, he acknowledged it was his decision alone.

    Hodne later said he was in the dark - "I felt like the village idiot because I had no idea what they were doing," he recalled. The decision was foolhardy, he said. Divided in two, "they didn't have enough combat power to do that mission" of clearing Manah, he testified. (Other commanders have insisted that splitting the platoon was perfectly safe and a common practice.)

    One thing is clear: The order sparked a flurry of activity by the Black Sheep.

    One of the gunners who shot Tillman said his unit didn't even have time to look at a map before getting back on the road.

    "We were rushed to conduct an operation that had such flaws," said Alders. "Which in the end would prove to be fatal."

    "If anything, this sense of urgency was as deadly to Tillman as the bullet that cut his life short," Alders wrote in a lengthy statement protesting his expulsion from the Rangers. "We could have conducted the search at night like we did on the follow-up operations or the next morning like we ended up doing anyway. Why, I ask, why?"

    An investigator, Brig. Gen. Gary M. Jones, would later agree that an "artificial sense of urgency" to keep Tillman's platoon moving was a crucial factor in his death: "There was no specific intelligence that made the movement to Manah before nightfall imperative."

    An officer involved in the incident told AP there was, however, general intelligence of insurgent activity in this region, historically a Taliban hotbed.

    That suspicion would be confirmed when the Black Sheep drove through a narrow canyon, its walls towering about 500 feet, and came under fire from enemy Afghans. Chaos broke out and communications broke down.

    After the platoon split, the second section of the convoy roared out of the canyon, into an open valley and straight at their comrades a few minutes ahead. A Humvee packed with pumped-up Rangers opened fire, killing the friendly Afghan and Tillman, though he desperately sought to be recognized.

    Later, at least one of the same Rangers turned his guns on a village where witnesses say civilian women and children had gathered. The shooters raked it with fire, the American witnesses said; they wounded two additional fellow Rangers, including their own platoon leader.

    Had it happened in the United States, police would have quickly cordoned off the area with "crime scene" tape and determined whether a law had been broken.

    Instead, the investigations into Tillman's death have cascaded, one after another, for the past 30 months.

    For Mary Tillman, getting to the bottom of her son's death is more than a personal quest.

    "This isn't just about our son," she said. "It's about holding the military accountable. Finding out what happened to Pat is ultimately going to be important in finding out what happened to other soldiers."

    In the days after the shootings, the first officer appointed to investigate, then-Capt. Richard Scott, interviewed all four shooters, their driver, and many others who were there. He concluded within a week that the gunmen demonstrated "gross negligence" and recommended further investigation.

    "It could involve some Rangers that could be charged" with a crime, Scott told a superior later.

    Then-Lt. Col. Jeffrey Bailey - the battalion commander who oversaw Tillman's platoon - later assured Tillman's family that those responsible would be punished as harshly as possible.

    But no one was ever court martialed; staff lawyers advised senior Army commanders reviewing the incident that there was no legal basis for it.

    Instead, the Army punished seven people all together; four soldiers received relatively minor punishments known as Article 15s under military law, with no court proceedings. These four ranged from written reprimands to expulsion from the Rangers. One, Baker, had his pay reduced and was effectively forced out of the Army. The other three soldiers received administrative reprimands.

    Scott's report circulated briefly among a small corps of high-ranking officers.

    Then, it disappeared.

    Some of Tillman's relatives think the Army buried the report because its findings were too explosive. Army officials refused to provide a copy to the AP, saying no materials related to the investigation could be released.

    The commander of Tillman's 75th Ranger Regiment, then-Col. James C. Nixon, wasn't satisfied with Scott's investigation, which he said focused too heavily on pre-combat inspections and procedures rather than on what had happened.

    Scott "made some conclusions in the document that weren't validated by facts" as described by the participants, Nixon would tell later investigators.

    Nixon assigned his top aide, Lt. Col. Ralph Kauzlarich, to lead what became the second investigation. Kauzlarich harshly criticized Baker and the men on his truck.

    Among other things, Baker should have known that at least two of his subordinates had never been in a firefight, and should have closely supervised where they shot.

    "His failure to do so resulted in deaths of Cpl. Tillman and the AMF soldier, and the serious wounding of two other (Rangers)," Kauzlarich concluded. "While a great deal of discretion should be granted to a leader who is making difficult judgments in the heat of combat, the command also has a responsibility to hold its leaders accountable when that judgment is so wanton or poor that it places the lives of other men at risk."

    Still, the Tillman family complained that questions remained: Who killed Tillman? Why did they fire? Were the punishments stiff enough?

    "I don't think that punishment fit their actions out there in the field," said Kevin Tillman, who was with his brother the day Pat was killed but was several minutes behind him in the trailing element of a convoy and saw nothing.

    "They were not inquiring, identifying, engaging (targets). They weren't doing their job as a soldier," he told an investigator. "You have an obligation as a soldier to, you know, do certain things, and just shooting isn't one of your responsibilities. You know, it has to be a known, likely suspect."

    And so, in November 2004, acting Army Secretary Les Brownlee ordered up yet another investigation, by Jones.

    The result was 2,100 pages of transcripts and detailed descriptions of the incident, but no new charges or punishments. The report, completed Jan. 10, 2005, was provided - with many portions blacked out or removed entirely - to the Tillman family. It has not been released to the public; the family found it wanting.

    Pressed anew by the Tillmans, the Pentagon inspector general announced a review of the investigations in August 2005. And in March 2006, they launched a new criminal probe into the actions of the men who shot at Tillman.

    The veteran Pentagon official who is overseeing these latest inquiries, acting Defense Department Inspector General Thomas Gimble, has called the Tillman probe the toughest case he has ever seen, according to people he recently briefed.

    Investigators are looking at who pulled the triggers and fired at Tillman; they are also looking at the officers who pressured the platoon to move through a region with a history of ambushes; the soldiers who burned Tillman's uniform and body armor afterward; and at everyone in the chain of command who deliberately kept the circumstances of Tillman's death from the family for more than a month.

    Military investigators under Gimble's direction this year visited the rugged valley in eastern Afghanistan where Tillman was killed. It was a risky trip; the region is even more dangerous today than it was in 2004.

    According to one person briefed by investigators, the contingent included at least two soldiers who were there the day of the incident - Staff Sgt. Matthew Weeks, a squad leader who was up the hill from Tillman when he was shot, and the driver of the GMV that carried the Rangers who shot Tillman, Staff Sgt. Kellett Sayre.

    When the current inquiry began, the Pentagon projected it would be completed by September 2006. Now Gimble and the Army's Criminal Investigation Command, known as CID, are aiming to finish their work by December, say lawmakers and other officials briefed by Gimble.

    CID is probing everything up to and including Tillman's shooting. The inspector general's office itself has a half-dozen investigators researching everything that happened afterward, including allegations of a coverup.

    The investigators have taken sworn testimony from about 70 people, some of whom said they were questioned for more than six hours. But Gimble said investigators have been hindered by a failure to locate key witnesses, even some who are still in the active military.

    Moreover, those who are now out of the Army, including three of the four shooters, can't be court martialed. They could be charged in the civilian justice system by a U.S. attorney, but such a step would be highly unusual.

    The law that allows it, the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act, has been invoked fewer than a half-dozen times since its enactment in 2000, said Scott Silliman, executive director of Duke Law School's Center on Law, Ethics and National Security and a high-ranking Air Force lawyer until his retirement in 1993.

    The investigation, Gimble has said, is also complicated because of "numerous missteps" by the three previous investigators, particularly their failure to follow standards for handling evidence.

    Gimble promised lawmakers in a series of briefings this fall that his investigation "will bring all to light." He has committed to releasing his detailed findings to key legislators, Pentagon officials and the Tillman family, as well as a synopsis to the general public, congressional aides said.

    Gimble declined an AP request for an interview.

    To date, a total of seven soldiers have been disciplined in Tillman's death.

    Bailey, the 2nd Ranger Battalion commander who was camped out about two miles down the road with another unit the night Tillman died, surveyed the shooting scene hours after it occurred.

    "I don't think there was any criminal act," he said. "It was a fratricide based upon a lot of contributing factors, confusion," he testified to an investigator in late 2004.

    Some high-ranking officers, including Bailey, believe a lack of control in the field was to blame - starting with the platoon leader and including the soldiers who didn't identify their targets.

    Bailey, who approved punishments for several of the soldiers, said he disagreed with the platoon's protests that they were "doing what we asked them to do under some very difficult circumstances, and that there were mistakes made but they weren't negligent mistakes."

    He also testified that "three gunners were, to varying degrees, culpable in what had happened out there." And he said he wanted a fourth soldier involved - the squad leader, Baker - "out of the military."

    Baker soon left the Army.

    As for others involved:

    -The three other shooters - Ashpole, Alders and Elliott - remained in the service initially but Elliott and Ashpole have since left. Elliott struck a deal with authorities; in exchange for his testimony to investigator Jones, the Army gave him immunity from prosecution "in any criminal proceedings."

    -The platoon leader, Lt. David Uthlaut, was later bumped down from the Rangers to the regular Army for failing to prepare his men prior to the shootings, according to Bailey.

    "They didn't do communications checks. They didn't check out their equipment. So they'd been there 24 hours," Bailey testified. "For example, some of the weapons systems weren't even loaded with ammunition. Many of the soldiers didn't know where they were going. They didn't have contingency plans."

    A non-commissioned officer on the ground that day, however, testified that the unit carried out required communications checks.

    Uthlaut was also wounded by fellow Rangers in the incident. He was awarded the Purple Heart and later promoted to captain.

    -Saunders, the company commander, was given the authority to punish three soldiers - even though he himself was reprimanded for his own poor leadership. Both Saunders and Hodne received formal written reprimands for failing to "provide adequate command and control" of subordinate units - administrative punishments lighter than the Article 15s handed down to the soldiers who shot at Tillman. This obviously hasn't hurt Hodne's career; he has since been promoted.

    "I thought it was (the commanders') fault, or part of their fault that we were even in this situation, when they're telling us to split up," said Ashpole.

    Some lawmakers have warned that if this probe does not clear up all questions on Tillman's death, they may press for congressional hearings. Others have said Congress could call for an independent panel of retired military officers and other experts to conduct an outside probe.

    Rep. Mike Honda, a Democrat who represents the San Jose district where Tillman's family lives, has pressed the Pentagon for answers on the status of its investigations.

    "I'm very impatient and at times cynical," Honda said. But, he said, the honor of the military - and the confidence of the public in the military and the government - are at stake.

    "So if we pursue the truth and wait for it," he said, "it may be worthwhile."

  2. #2
    Penalties resulting from Tillman's death

    A look at the punishments that have resulted so far from Pat Tillman's death, with the soldiers' ranks at the time.

    The officers who controlled the movements of Tillman's platoon:

    -Capt. William C. "Satch" Saunders: Formal written reprimand for "failing to provide adequate command and control of subordinate units."

    -Maj. David Hodne: Formal written reprimand for "failing to provide adequate command and control" of subordinate units.

    The platoon leader in the field:

    -Lt. David Uthlaut: Verbal reprimand by the battalion commander for dereliction of duty; expelled from the Army Rangers for failure to meet its standards.

    The shooters:

    -Sgt. Greg Baker: field grade Article 15, a non-judicial punishment under military law, for "dereliction of duty for failure to effectively command and control the fire and movement of his Rangers"; docked some salary, reduced in grade and given extra duty for 45 days; effectively forced out of the Army.

    -Spc. Stephen Ashpole: Company grade Article 15, less severe than field grade; given extra duty; expelled from the Rangers for "failure to exercise sound judgment and fire discipline in combat operations."

    -Spc. Steve Elliott: Company grade Article 15; given extra duty; expelled from the Rangers for "failure to exercise sound judgment and fire discipline in combat operations."

    -Spc. Trevor Alders: Company grade Article 15; given extra duty; expelled from the Rangers for "failure to exercise sound judgment and fire discipline in combat operations."

  3. #3
    Guest Free Member
    Sad tale.

  4. #4
    Pat Tillman's last day, reconstructed
    Associated Press Writers

    EDITOR'S NOTE - Associated Press reporters examined thousands of pages of material accumulated by investigators into Pat Tillman's death - and interviewed dozens of people with knowledge of the case - to assemble this reconstruction of the events of that day.

    Pat Tillman spent his last day of life on the broken roads of Afghanistan's Paktia province, a thumb on the map that juts into northwestern Pakistan. It's a land of barren and towering mountains that can turn a vehicle into a pile of scrap metal.

    That's exactly how Tillman and the rest of his "Black Sheep" platoon, the U.S. Army's 75th Ranger Regiment, found themselves bogged down in the badlands of Afghanistan on April 22, 2004. The primitive roads had crippled yet another Ground Mobility Vehicle, or GMV, a Humvee bolstered for extra durability.

    Over the previous week, the platoon had struck into enemy-held territory along the Pakistani border, killing and capturing enemy fighters, including remnants of the Taliban.

    Now, as the Black Sheep prepared to move deeper into Afghanistan, one GMV wouldn't start.

    A helicopter ferried in a replacement fuel pump, but a mechanic couldn't get the rig to turn over. They hired a local Jinga truck to tow the GMV, but it could only hoist the front end off the ground, and the GMV began to fall apart. They needed a heavy-duty military tow vehicle.

    The leader of Tillman's platoon, then-Lt. David Uthlaut, asked for a chopper to do it. But commanders at a remote operations center told him no flight would be available for at least three days.

    "We should blow this thing," Kevin Tillman, Pat Tillman's brother and fellow Ranger, urged a superior, according to transcripts of sworn testimony he later gave an investigator.

    No, commanders decided; its charred carcass might be used as propaganda.

    Meanwhile, enemy fighters lurked, unseen, plotting an ambush.

    Several soldiers said they had an eerie feeling they would be attacked. Two Rangers in the same battalion had recently been killed during daytime maneuvers, prompting the battalion commander to limit such movements to nighttime hours.

    Yet the platoon hunkered down in broad daylight as Uthlaut ironed out a plan with superiors by e-mail.

    The concern about an ambush apparently extended to the operations center, where an officer had asked in advance for airborne support to back up the Black Sheep that afternoon. The request was denied.

    The brass leaned on Uthlaut to get going. But how? Should he split the platoon, with one section escorting the GMV to a waiting tow truck on main highway? Or should he keep the platoon together, everyone delivering the GMV to the wrecker, then continue to their destination?

    That destination was Manah, a village of humble stone houses. To get there, the platoon would have to thread its way through a series of canyons and valleys.

    Uthlaut was anxious about leaving two sub-units of Rangers with inadequate firepower in a known ambush zone.

    But his bosses disagreed.

    The order came: Split the platoon.

    "I tried one last-ditch effort," Uthlaut said in a sworn statement. He pointed out that the unit had just one .50-caliber machine gun between both sections, and asked the officer relaying messages on the other end, Capt. Kirby Dennis, if that changed anything.

    "He said that it did not," Uthlaut said. "At that point I figured I had pushed the envelope far enough and accepted the mission."

    Meanwhile, Afghans they had passed hours earlier now "weren't as friendly," one soldier testified. "They looked like they were kind of like watching us."

    Around this time, according to the sworn testimony of several Rangers, an Afghan civilian handed one soldier a written warning: "You're going to be ambushed," it read.

    Squad leaders ignored it. "If we sit there and stop for every single little letter that we get, you know, we'd be here forever," one soldier later said. The information never made it to the platoon leader.

    After a hasty briefing by Uthlaut, the two convoys began rolling toward their separate destinations. First, both groups had to negotiate a slot canyon barely wide enough for trucks to squeeze through, its walls rising 500 feet on either side.

    "I knew damn well we were going to get hit," Kevin Tillman recalled. "If we were ever going to get hit, that is where they should have hit us - whoever was in the mood to take a potshot."

    The first group made it through, but the second came under fire from enemy Afghans who peppered it with machine-gun fire and rocket-propelled grenades.

    None of the Rangers was struck, but the ambush unleashed the chaos that would cost Tillman his life.

    Pat Tillman's unit was the first to navigate the canyon. When the gunfire erupted behind them, they sprinted back toward the gunfire to give their comrades cover. Tillman's brother Kevin was in the trailing convoy under fire.

    The former NFL star charged up a hill, with Spc. Bryan O'Neal and one allied Afghan fighter. They started firing at enemy gunmen.

    The soldiers in the second convoy were stalled and under fire in the depths of the canyon, blocked by their lead vehicle. The Afghan driver of the Jinga truck had abandoned it and was cowering behind rocks.

    On a radio, Staff Sgt. Matthew Weeks, who was leading Tillman's squad on the hill, tried frantically - but unsuccessfully - to reach the convoy being ambushed.

    As the lead assault vehicle in the second convoy navigated around the stalled Jinga truck and floored it out of the canyon, one Ranger spotted human figures and muzzle flashes on the hillside above.

    Was it an enemy? The Afghan holding the AK-47 certainly looked like one, they later said. "Contact three o'clock!" one of the Americans cried.

    In fact, the Afghan was the U.S. ally alongside Tillman, one of a half-dozen members of the Afghan Military Forces hired to fight with the Americans. Recruited and trained by the CIA, they were provided to the Rangers as "force multipliers," people familiar with the mission said.

    Of the six Afghans traveling with the Rangers that day, five stayed in their truck when the firing broke out. A lone Afghan joined Tillman and O'Neal on the high ground, firing at the ambushers.

    But the platoon had done little or no training with the allied Afghan fighters. The Rangers weren't even clear on what uniforms these battlefield companions were supposed to wear, though they had been together for two weeks.

    Photos taken of the platoon in the days before Tillman's death show the Afghans wearing uniforms virtually indistinguishable from those of the Americans, raising questions about why the Rangers mistook the Afghan with Tillman for an enemy, who typically wore darker fatigues or traditional regional dress.

    Yet Paktia province was also a place where shifting Afghan allegiances were often inscrutable to the Americans. In January 2002, a CIA agent and an Army sergeant were waved through a Paktia checkpoint manned by Afghan militiamen who appeared friendly, said a former intelligence official. On their way back out the same militiamen shot and killed the Army sergeant and wounded the agent.

    More than two years later, Sgt. Greg Baker, who led the barrage, said he saw an Afghan with a dark complexion wearing a "tiger stripe" uniform and missing the signature American helmet. Baker said he saw the Afghan firing a rifle typically carried by the enemy, and Baker thought it was pointed at him. In fact, it was the allied Afghan aiming above him, at enemy on the ridge.

    Baker shot and killed the friendly Afghan. "I zoned in on him because I could see the AK-47. I focused only on him," Baker testified.

    Baker and his squad aboard the racing truck saw other "shapes," they later testified. Although Baker could clearly see the Afghan's weapon, he said he couldn't identify the brawny NFL player or O'Neal, both standing a few feet from the Afghan.

    The two Rangers threw their hands in the air and shouted "Cease fire!" but Baker and three other gunners pounded the hillside with machine gun fire.

    "They did not look like the cease-fire hand-and-arm signal because they were waving from side to side," one of the shooters, Staff Sgt. Trevor Alders, would later tell investigators.

    Their vehicle was not under fire, Spc. Steve Elliott and Spc. Stephen Ashpole testified. But Ashpole heard someone in the truck say "contact" and swung his .50-caliber machine gun to the north, toward Tillman. He said the lighting conditions were "OK" as he looked through an unmagnified gunsight and trained his fire on the ridge.

    Ashpole "saw two shapes, and put my last bursts into the target," he said. "I assumed others had PID" - positive identification, he testified.

    Baker testified he was two football fields away from the targets when he started firing; O'Neal said they came as close as 30 yards while firing.

    Baker also insists the truck kept moving and denies a contention - apparently in an early investigative report that has since disappeared - that he jumped off the truck and charged 15 meters toward Tillman before opening up, insisting that the truck was moving the entire time. Two soldiers who witnessed the shooting told the Tillman family that Baker got out.

    The driver, Staff Sgt. Kellett Sayre, said the AK-47 confused him "for a split second," but he soon recognized what the others did not: The vehicles parked nearby belonged to Rangers. The men on the ridge were Rangers. A friendly fire disaster was unfolding before his eyes.

    "It was like (Tillman and Spc. Bryan O'Neal, who was next to him) were trying to say, 'Hey, it's us,'" with their hands straight up in the air, he said.

    Shouting "cease fire!" Sayre reached back and grabbed Ashpole's leg. "I screamed 'no' and then yelled repeatedly several times to cease fire."

    "No one heard me," Sayre said. The deafening gunfire drowned out his cries.

    Sayre says he then made a critical decision. If he stopped the Humvee, it would have offered a stable platform for the shooters, he later explained. Instead, he said, he kept driving, hoping to carry the shooters out of range.

    Instead, it had the opposite effect, giving the Rangers a better angle to blast away at their comrades as the assault vehicle raced across the valley.

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