-- Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Wednesday there was no evidence of a cover-up of the circumstances of Army Ranger Cpl. Pat Tillman's death.
"I know that I would not engage in a cover-up. I know that no one in the White House suggested such a thing to me," Rumsfeld testified before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which is examining what senior Defense Department officials knew about Tillman's death and when they knew it.
Tillman -- who turned down a contract offer from the NFL Arizona Cardinals to join the military after the September 11, 2001, attacks -- was killed by members of his platoon in Afghanistan on April 22, 2004. For five weeks, his family was not told that the death was a result of fratricide, or friendly fire.
Lt. Gen. Philip Kensinger, whom the secretary of the Army censured Tuesday for his handling of the military's investigation into Tillman's
death, was invited to testify, but Rep. Henry Waxman, the committee's chairman, said the general had refused to appear and had been subpoenaed but couldn't be located.
Kensinger's attorney said he was away on business.
"He declined the committee invitation to testify two weeks ago, so it was no surprise to the committee that he had no intent to participate in a hearing that is all about show and no substance," attorney Charles W. Gittins said in an e-mail to The Associated Press.
Kensinger was one of three generals who were sent a memo, called a P4, or "personal for" message, giving an early warning that Tillman's death was likely the result of friendly fire, according to Waxman.So we will not be able to ask Gen. Kensinger what he did with the P4," Waxman said. "We won't be able to ask him why he didn't notify the Tillman family about the friendly-fire investigation. And we won't be able to ask him why he did nothing to correct the record after he attended Cpl. Tillman's memorial service in early May and he heard statements he knew were false."
Tillman's parents, brother and widow attended the hearing. At the memorial service, the Tillmans and the nation still believed Tillman was killed by hostile fire.
expressed his condolences to Tillman's family and said "the handling of the circumstances could only have added to the pain of losing a loved one."
Rumsfeld testified that he didn't recall precisely when he learned of Tillman's death, or the possibility that it was the result of fratricide.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Maryland, asked Rumsfeld how he could not have known that Tillman was killed by American troops.
"You're talking about an institution of something like 3 million people -- active duty, reserve, guard, civilians, contractors," Rumsfeld said. "There are so many things going on in that department in any given year. ... It's like a city of 3 million people. It's not possible for someone to know all the things that are going on."
Rumsfeld answered committee members patiently, but at times appeared exasperated at their persistent questioning.
There were flare-ups of temper, as when Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, pressed Rumsfeld about whether he discussed press strategies with the White House.
"Was there a Department of Defense press strategy with respect to the war?" Kucinich asked.
"If there was, it obviously wasn't very good," Rumsfeld responded.
"Well you know, maybe it was very good, because you actually covered up the Tillman case for a while, you covered up the Jessica Lynch case, you covered up Abu Ghraib, so something was working for you -- was there a strategy to do it, Mr. Rumsfeld?" Kucinich persisted.
"Well, Congressman, the implication that -- you said 'you' covered it up, that's just false," Rumsfeld answered testily. "You have nothing to base that on, you have not a scrap of evidence."
Rumsfeld received a warmer welcome from Rep. John Mica, R-Florida, who recalled being at the Pentagon for a briefing the day of the September 11 terrorist attacks.
"There's a hero sitting right there," Mica said of Rumsfeld. "This secretary rolled up his sleeves and went down to save people who had been victimized by the terrorist attack on the Pentagon. ... I'll never forget that morning or your service to our nation."
Rumsfeld was joined at the hearing by Gen. Richard Myers, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Gen. John Abizaid, former chief of U.S. Central Command; and Gen. Bryan Douglas Brown, former commander of U.S. Special Operations Command. All of the generals are now retired.
As soon as a tap of Waxman's gavel ended the hearing, a few protesters in the room began shouting at Rumsfeld, yelling, "War criminal!" Rumsfeld ignored them.
On Tuesday, Army Secretary Pete Geren found Kensinger "guilty of deception" after reviewing recommendations from the Pentagon's inspector general and Gen. William Wallace, a four-star general who investigated the death and its aftermath. Geren ordered a grade-review board to consider whether Kensinger should be stripped of a star.