Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Rep. Clay speaks about LaVena at Tillman/Lynch hearing

The case of Pfc. LaVena Johnson finally edged into official light today at the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform hearing on Cpl. Pat Tillman and Pvt. Jessica Lynch. Representative William Lacy Clay of Missouri's First District spoke briefly about LaVena's death, the unsatisfactory investigation by Army officials, the refusal by the Army to revisit the case. To my knowledge, it is the first time that any member of any congressional body has spoken LaVena's name before the public and the wider press, and certainly the first time that her family's struggle to force a a new investigation of LaVena's death has been officially linked to the wider topic of deception by the military.

There was some question of when Congress would finally bring any sort of attention to the case of Pfc. Johnson; now we see that the search for justice for one military family just may bring light to others as well. Rep. Clay's remarks, welcome as they are, represent only the barest beginning of the kind of official attention that is required to prompt a reinvestigation of LaVena's death...but it is a beginning nonetheless.

UPDATE: This is the text of the opening statement made by Rep. Clay:

Mr. Chairman, honorable colleagues, good morning.

Throughout history, it has often been said that "the first casualty of war...is the truth."

That has certainly been the case in Iraq and Afghanistan. And this morning's testimony will demonstrate the depth of that problem.

Private Lynch, I want to thank you for being here today. Your courage and dedication to duty, both while under enemy fire and then as a wounded P.O.W. are heroic. And your commitment to making certain that the truth about what happened to you and your unit finally emerged is equally heroic. It honors the memory of your fallen comrades and is in the best tradition of our armed forces.

Mrs. Tillman, as a parent, I want to express my sincere condolences to you on the loss of your brave son, Patrick. And I want to commend you for having the courage to pursue the truth about your son's death, while bearing the terrible burden of losing a child.

We know now that your painful loss was compounded by having had to confront a pattern of deception, misleading information, and in some instances, deliberate misinformation.

And unfortunately, that pattern of misinformation and deception is not limited to just your son's case.

Back in my district in St. Louis, I had a brave young constituent by the name of Private LaVena Johnson. And sadly, in July of 2005, at the age of 19, she became the first female soldier fro Missouri to be killed in Iraq.

Just like Corporal Tillman, Private Johnson was an exceptional young American. She was an honor student, a gifted musician, and very active in her church and community. And just like Corporal Tillman, after 9-11, she was inspired to join the Army to help protect her country.

Private Johnson came from a proud military tradition. Her father, Dr. John Johnson, is an Army veteran and worked for the Department of the Army for 25 years. Her two uncles served in Vietnam. And her grandfather served in World War II.

For almost two years, Dr. and Mrs. Johnson have been trying to get at the truth about what happened to their daughter. And my office has tried to assist them in that effort.

Unfortunately, they have been met by a wall of disrespect, evasion, and a failure to provide them with the answers that the parents of any fallen soldier deserve.

I am thankful that this committee is taking action to get them the information they have requested.

Private LaVena Johnson gave her life for her country. And her country has a responsibility to tell her family the whole truth about how she died.

Thank you.

The specific information of which Rep. Clay spoke - particular documents relating to the investigation of LaVena's death - was requested on behalf of the Johnsons by Chairman Henry A. Waxman and Representative Clay in his capacity as chair of the Subcommittee on Information Policy, Census, and National Affairs. Their letter, addressed to Acting Secretary of the Army Pete Geren, is available for download.