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Penalties seen in Tillman case

Three-star general may be demoted

Senior officers misled Pat Tillman's family about his death. Senior officers misled Pat Tillman's family about his death.

WASHINGTON -- The Army secretary is expected to take the rare step of recommending that a retired three-star general be demoted for misleading investigators probing the military's handling of the 2004 death of Army Ranger Pat Tillman, Defense Department officials said yesterday.

Such action by Army Secretary Preston M. "Pete" Geren would go beyond the punishment recommended by the military general assigned to review the findings of a critical report earlier this year by the Pentagon inspector general. Defense officials said Geren believed the findings that retired Lieutenant General Philip R. Kensinger Jr. misled investigators merited the strong punishment.

Stripping a retired general of a star is an unusual move, and Army lawyers have been carefully reviewing the case. As a retired lieutenant general, Kensinger receives a retirement benefit of $9,400 a month. If demoted to major general, he would lose about $900 a month.

Kensinger and other officers, however, will avoid criminal charges, facing only administrative punishment, officials said. Geren is expected to formally issue the recommendation next week. Army officials said Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates first has to approve Geren's final recommendation.

Tillman, the NFL player who gave up a multimillion dollar contract to enlist in the Army, was mistakenly killed in Afghanistan by another member of his platoon. The Army initially announced that Tillman died in combat and not from friendly fire. Although officers knew the truth soon after the shooting, the military waited a month before telling Tillman's family he was not killed by Afghan militants.

The Defense Department inspector general's report, released in March, was critical of the action of nine officers, including four generals. That report was handed over to General William S. Wallace, the commander of Army Training and Doctrine Command, to recommend punishment.

Officials briefed on the Wallace report said that in some instances it goes beyond the inspector general's investigation, singling out an additional general officer for punishment for failing to raise questions about Tillman's Silver Star nomination.

Wallace will recommend administrative punishments for four of the five generals whose actions he reviewed and three of five lower-ranked officers.

The Army will spare Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal, who currently oversees Special Operations forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. Officials briefed on the report said McChrystal was spared because he tried to alert his chain of command that Tillman may have been killed by friendly fire.

In a separate development, the Associated Press reported yesterday that it had obtained documents indicating that Army medical examiners were suspicious about the close proximity of the three bullet holes in Tillman's forehead and tried without success to get authorities to investigate whether his death amounted to a crime.

The doctors, whose names were blacked out, said the bullet holes were so close together that it appeared the Army Ranger was cut down by an M-16 fired from a mere 10 yards or so away.

The most serious accusations in the inspector general's report released in March were against Kensinger. The report said he probably learned two days after Tillman's death that he was probably killed by friendly fire, but told investigators that he did not learn of the information until a week later, on the eve of Tillman's memorial service.