There always was a dark cinematic thread to the story of Pat Tillman: the football star imbued with post-9/11 patriotism who was killed in a friendly-fire incident in the Afghan mountains and the allegations of a massive bureaucratic cover-up involving the highest levels of the U.S. Army in the wake of the tragedy.
So it wasn’t terribly shocking when word broke this past winter that “The Tillman Story,” a documentary film, was being purchased by the powerhouse Weinstein Company. The story, even without a director applying his artistic license to the script, obviously had many elements of a political thriller.
As the release date approaches — the film will premiere in Los Angeles and New York on August 20 — those elements are becoming a bit clearer and more intriguing. The Weinstein Company sent the Huffington Post two previously unseen letters written by Tillman’s father at the peak of frustration with the army’s investigation into his son’s death. The notes, penned to Brigadier General Gary M. Jones (the man spearheading the investigation) as well as the Senate Armed Services Committee (which oversaw Jones’s work), paint a picture of a man increasingly convinced that a massive conspiracy was emerging around the death of his son.
“You are a General,” Tillman’s father writes Jones after being presented with a briefing book of his findings. “There is no way a man like you, with your intelligence, education, military, experience, responsibilities (primarily for difficult situations), and rank… believes the conclusions reached in the March 31, 2005 Briefing Book. But your signature is on it. I assume, therefore, that you are part of this shameless bullshit. I embarrassed myself by treating you with respect [on] March 31, 2005. I thought your rank deserved it and anticipated something different from the new and improved investigation. I won’t act so hypocritically if we meet again.”
“In sum: Fuck you… and yours.”
The two letters are worth a read, if only for the insight they provide into how haphazard and mismanaged (deliberately or not) the investigations were. Tillman’s father comes off as emotional, for good reason. But the questions he raised — while conspiratorial in tone — offer compelling drama (both real life and for the upcoming movie). Take, for instance, the notion that the shooters of his son may have been blinded by the glare of the sunset.
“The shooters were always looking North or Northwest,” Tillman’s father writes. “Even in Afghanistan, the sun sets in the West – Southwest. How on God’s green earth can you add in a “glare factor” looking away from the sun that has set? (P-16) Immediately after the sunset , facing the wrong direction (North vs. Southwest), the glare impaired their vision? Don’t you need sun to have glare?”