WASHINGTON - President Bush hopes someone is held responsible for the U.S. military's mishandling of information about the death of former football star Pat Tillman in Afghanistan, the White House said yesterday.
Bush did not learn about the unusual circumstances of the Army ranger's death until after the soldier's memorial service on May 3, 2004, said Deputy Press Secretary Dana Perino.
Military officers at first said Tillman had died in an ambush, when in fact he was accidentally killed by fellow U.S. troops.
"I think he feels deeply sorry for the family and all they've gone through," Perino said.
"And he's pleased that the Department of Defense has taken it upon themselves to investigate it. And he hopes that people are held to account."
Tillman's death received worldwide attention because he had walked away from a multimillion-dollar contract with the NFL's Arizona Cardinals to enlist in the Army after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The Pentagon initially misled his family about how he died on April 22, 2004, and relatives did not learn the truth for more than a month.
Bush asked for updates about Tuesday's hearing by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which was held to learn whether, and when, top Defense officials and the White House knew that Tillman's death resulted from friendly fire.
"It's not clear - people don't remember - if he [Bush] heard it from media reports, or if he heard it from the Pentagon, but it was sometime after the funeral," Perino said.
In questioning what the White House knew about Tillman, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., cited a memo written by a top general seven days after Tillman's death, warning that it was "highly possible" Tillman had been killed by friendly fire, and making clear that his warning should be conveyed to the president.
But in a speech he delivered two days after the memo was written in late April 2004, Bush made no reference to the way Tillman had died.
The White House said there is no indication that Bush received the warning, which was conveyed from then-Maj. Gen. Stanley McChrystal to Gen. John Abizaid, head of Central Command.