Thu, Oct 26, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Brother of `war on terror' hero lashes out at Bush

POSTER BOY With the situation in Iraq spinning out of control, the US left and right are engaged in a heated debate on the meaning of the invasion

AFP , WASHINGTON

The brother of a US football player who was killed as a soldier in Afghanistan and hailed as a hero for giving up his athletic career to fight the "war on terror" has lashed out at US President George W. Bush and the war in Iraq.

The parents of Pat Tillman, who died by "friendly fire" in Afghanistan in April 2004, already have accused US authorities of initially trying to cover up the circumstances of their son's death.

But Tillman's brother, Kevin, who also served in Iraq and Afghanistan along with his brother, spoke out for the first time on Friday with an angry condemnation of the rationale for the Iraq war and Bush's leadership.

"Somehow, the more soldiers that die, the more legitimate the illegal invasion becomes," Kevin Tillman wrote in an essay published by Truthdig.com, a left-leaning Web site.

"Somehow torture is tolerated. Somehow lying is tolerated. Somehow reason is being discarded for faith, dogma and nonsense. Somehow American leadership managed to create a more dangerous world," wrote Tillman, who gave up his own fledgling career in professional baseball to join the army.

Entitling his essay "After Pat's Birthday," Tillman noted that legislative elections will be held on Nov. 7, a day after his late brother's birthday, and calls for voters to hold Bush's Republican Party accountable.

"Luckily this country is still a democracy. People still have a voice. People still can take action. It can start after Pat's birthday," he wrote.

His words have coincided with escalating violence in Iraq and generated bitter debate on the Internet, with opponents and defenders of the war arguing over the meaning of Tillman's death and the justification for the US invasion of Iraq.

Both the right and the left in US politics have battled to define Pat Tillman as a symbol, with conservative commentators questioning the veracity of reports that the former defensive back had opposed Bush and the Iraq war.

In the wake of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Pat Tillman was held up as a model citizen for choosing to give up a US$3.6 million contract extension with the Arizona Cardinals and instead enlist for military service.

The square-jawed, muscular athlete, known for his tenacious play, had avoided all publicity while in uniform and eventually made it into the elite Army Rangers.

His death near Afghanistan's border with Pakistan received elaborate media coverage, with his funeral carried live on the ESPN sports TV network.

The US military first described how Tillman had died in a hillside firefight with Taliban forces, and awarded him the Silver Star for valor.

Military officials later said Tillman had been killed accidentally by friendly fire in a chaotic engagement with the enemy. But eventually the Pentagon acknowledged that there was no hostile force involved, only gunfire from his fellow US Army Rangers.

Newspaper reports have alleged a possible cover-up and that the military knew early on that Tillman had been killed by friendly fire but kept quiet until after the funeral was held.

In March, the Department of Defense launched a criminal probe into the case, the fifth successive investigation, which is still pending.

Critics of Bush have seized on Tillman's story, saying that it illustrates the White House's preference for propaganda and public relations spin.

"Though Tillman himself was so idealistic that he refused publicity of any kind when in the army, he was exploited by the war's cheerleaders as a recruitment lure and was needed to continue in that role after his death," New York Times columnist Frank Rich wrote.

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