Thursday, July 31, 2008

LaVena post at Crooks & Liars

Crooks & Liars returns to the story of PFC LaVena Johnson with a post by Logan Murphy:

Nicole and I have both written posts about the mysterious circumstances surrounding the death of PFC LaVena Johnson, and Democracy Now! had a heartbreaking interview with her family last week. LaVena’s family has worked hard to find the truth about her death and have finally had a breakthrough in the case. Unfortunately, the new details they uncovered are so disturbing that they could potentially make the Pat Tillman and Jessica Lynch stories pale in comparison. The above video from Cenk of The Young Turks captures my exact feelings about this horrific case. What you’re about to read will sicken and enrage you.

Murphy references a June 2008 article on LaVena from the St. Louis American (last link in the quote), and mentions today's Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs hearing on sexual assault in the military.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Oversight subcommittee hearing on sexual assault in the military

The parents of PFC LaVena Johnson believe that their daughter was murdered in Iraq - contrary to Army claims of suicide - and suspect that she may have been victim to a sexual assault. The Army has resisted calls for reinvestigation of the matter; public and Congressional attention are required in order to change military minds. Gina at What About Our Daughters? has alerted readers to an opportunity to bring LaVena's case to legislators - a public hearing on sexual assault in the military held by a sub- of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform:

On Thursday, July 31 at 10:00 am, [the Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs] will hold a hearing entitled, “Oversight Hearing on Sexual Assault in the Military.” The hearing will take place in room 2154 of the Rayburn House Office Building and is open to the public.

It should be noted that the chairman of the parent committee - Representative Henry Waxman - is the named petitionee of a new public appeal for hearings on the LaVena Johnson case. This petition is authored by the advocacy group ColorofChange.

The chair of the subcommittee is Rep. John F. Tierney of the Sixth District of Massachusetts. The names of other subcommittee members, and suggestions on trying to put LaVena on their agenda for the day, may be found at the What About Our Daughters? post.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Feministing, BuzzFlash on LaVena

Apologies for coming late to the July 18 writeup on PFC LaVena Johnson by Ann Friedman of Feministing. The post asks readers to spare just a couple of minutes to sign the Danielle Vyas-authored petition to Congress and President Bush, which has (of this writing) 2374 signatures with a goal of 3000. Friedman references posts on LaVena by a number of feminist writers; some of them have been previously noted here, while others are new to me:

You may have read about LaVena recently on Feministing, or from Cara, Megan at Jezebel, Gina at What About Our Daughters, and Kate at Broadsheet...

I am very happy to add Friedman to the growing list of writers whom I owe thanks for support for a renewed investigation of LaVena's death in Iraq.

Also on that list is Meg White for bringing LaVena's story to the many readers of BuzzFlash in a news analysis piece posted today. It is a capsule of the Johnson family's trials in pushing the Army to revisit the investigation of their daughter's death, and the possibility that she had been the victim of a sexual assault. Like Friedman's entry at Feministing, White touches on the CommonDreams.org article by retired Army colonel Ann Wright on other suspicious deaths of women in service, and references the recently-launched ColorofChange to Rep. Henry Waxman of the House Oversight and Governmental Affairs Committee. Many thanks to White for this entry.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

ColorofChange.org launches LaVena petition

The online grassroots organization ColorofChange.org, a black advocacy group founded in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, has lent its support to the family of LaVena Johnson. The group has launched a new petition addressed to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and its chairman, Representative Henry Waxman. From the petition page:

Justice for LaVena Johnson
Tell Congressman Waxman to investigate the Army's cover up of Pfc LaVena Johnson's murder.
While overwhelming evidence shows that LaVena Johnson was raped and murdered while serving in Iraq, the US Army refuses to acknowledge the crime and bring the perpetrators to justice.
Join the Johnson family's call for Congressman Waxman to hold a Congressional hearing that uncovers the truth behind LaVena's tragic death.

ColorofChange.org is perhaps most widely known for its advocacy on behalf of the Jena Six - young African-American men facing racial bias and inflated charges of murder in Jena, LA.

From the organization's "About Us" page:

ColorOfChange.org is comprised of Black folks from every economic class, as well as those of every color who seek to help our voices be heard. Our members are united behind a simple, powerful pledge: we will do all we can to make sure all Americans are represented, served, and protected—regardless of race or class.

I ask everyone to join the voices represented by the ColorofChange petition to Rep. Waxman, and to share the word with others.

LaVena's parents on Democracy Now!

John and Linda Johnson, parents of PFC LaVena Lynn Johnson, were interviewed on Democracy Now! by host Amy Goodman. Activist and retired Army colonel Ann Wright was also part of the program.

Three years ago, on July 19, 2005, Army Private First Class LaVena Johnson was found dead in Balad, Iraq. Her body was found in a tent belonging to the private military contractor KBR. She had abrasions all over her body, a broken nose, a black eye, burned hands, loose teeth, acid burns on her genitals, and a bullet hole in her head. The Army labeled Johnson’s death a suicide. But her parents never believed that story. They think she was raped and murdered and are now demanding a full congressional investigation into their daughter’s death.

The program is available at the Democracy Now! site for viewing or listening in a number of formats: Real Video stream, Real Audio stream, MP3 download, and others. A partial transcript is up as well; I expect a full version will be made available later.

MySpace write-up on Lavena; credit for connection to ColorofChange

Kim Brummell, an Army veteran and member of the North Carolina American Civil Liberties Union, has written about PFC LaVena Johnson in a post titled "Deadly Wall of Silence."

How will cases like this affect women signing up for the service and staying in the military? How will it affect the respect citizens have for our soldiers? How could we trust the military to help secure this nation when we may have cold-blooded murderers in a uniform wearing a U.S. flag? I got nothing but love for the military. The service taught me a lot. On the contrary, an injustice anywhere is an injustice everywhere. Where can you run and hide when your allies become your enemies?

Thanks much to Kim for her perspective as a former soldier and for her expression of concern for the service, for women in uniform, and for the Johnson family.

I also want to thank two people who - through separate efforts at the same time - brought the LaVena effort to the attention of ColorofChange.org. Activist Danielle Vyas contacted the advocacy group even as she launched her own Care2-based petition to Congress and the President. Gemina13, a DailyKos blogger, wrote a diary there about LaVena and also contacted ColorofChange. Their efforts helped to bring about the ColorofChange-sponsored petition to Representative Henry Waxman and the House Oversight Committee which he chairs. Thanks again, very much, to both Danielle and Gemina13.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Support, old and new

A couple of posts regarding LaVena Johnson came across my desk yesterday. One of them is a reprised article from early in the effort to prompt a renewed investigation of LaVena's death in Iraq; the other is a new entry commenting on the provisional Oversight Committee report released this week.

The revisited post by jurassicpork at Welcome Back to Pottersville:

To die unsung would really bring you down
Although wet eyes would never suit you
Walk through no archetypal suicide
Die young is far too boring these days
- “Unsung“, Helmet

With the exception of several administration officials both past and present and every other rabid warhawk in PNAC and the American Enterprise and Cato Institutes, I can’t think of a single American who belongs in Iraq.

And 19 year-old LaVena L. Johnson certainly had no business being there.


The new post by Shark-fu at AngryBlackBitch:

Like many St. Louisans I was deeply touched by the story of Private First Class LaVena Johnson, who died as a result of a non-combat incident near Balad, Iraq. PFC Johnson, who was from Florissant Missouri, died July 19, 2005 and was the first woman from Missouri to die while serving in Iraq or Afghanistan. I will never forget seeing her family interviewed on local television and witnessing their pain and frustration over the lack of information they’d been given concerning their loved one’s death. It was wrenching and emotional…and I was left frustrated that this story had not garnered national media attention like other similar investigations.

Each of these bloggers - like many others unmentioned here, bloggers or no - has put in a lot of time and effort on behalf of LaVena and her family. All of these efforts are greatly appreciated.

Socialist Appeal post on LaVena

Josh Lucker of Socialist Appeal attended the Black & Green Wednesday panel discussion on PFC LaVena Johnson that was held on June 4, and has published an article in support of the effort to re-investigate her death in Iraq.

On June 6th, a panel discussion was held in St. Louis to discuss the death of LaVena Johnson. She was the first Missouri woman killed in Iraq, just eight days shy of her 20th birthday. Today, three years after her death, questions still surround the circumstances of this tragedy. Her father, Dr. John Johnson, and other family members, have dedicated countless hours researching and traveling the country looking for an answer.

Lucker's article references the incidence of sexual assault in the military - the family of PFC Johnson believes that sexual assault was an circumstance in her death - as well as other cases of women soldiers who died from “self-inflicted, noncombat injuries” whose deaths demand vigorous investigation.

Many thanks to Josh and to Socialist Appeal for their article.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

LaVena in proposed Oversight Committee report

The death in Iraq of PFC LaVena Johnson - ruled a suicide by the Army and vigorously disputed by her family - finds a brief mention in a proposed report recently released by the House Oversight and Governmental Reform Committee: Misleading Information from the Battlefield: The Tillman and Lynch Episodes. As the title indicates, the main subjects of the report are the death of Corporal Patrick Tillman in Afghanistan and the capture of Private Jessica Lynch in Iraq. LaVena's case is mentioned in Section IX: Other Cases Brought to the Committee's Attention, as is the suspicious death of Specialist Jesse Buryj of Canton, Ohio.

The Committee’s majority staff was also contacted by the family and friends of Private First Class LaVena Johnson, a weapons supply manager from Florissant, Missouri, who died, family members say, in a suspicious non-combat incident near Balad, Iraq, on July 19, 2005. According to news reports, the Army ruled the death a suicide, and a medical examiner concurred with this finding. But Private Johnson’s family believes Army investigators ignored physical evidence inconsistent with a finding of suicide. They also believe that the Army has additional information about the circumstances of Private Johnson’s death that it has not shared with the family.

While the names of these soldiers are not as well-known as Pat Tillman and Jessica Lynch, their sacrifices were just as great and their families are just as deserving of the truth.

It is to be hoped that this acknowledgment will be followed up by further Congressional action, and renewed and transparent investigations.

The full text of the proposed report is available for download.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

DailyKos diary on LaVena

I learned this weekend that DailyKos blogger Gemina13 posted this June 30 diary: "Justice for Pfc. LaVena Johnson":

Women soldiers in the Iraqi-Afghanistan theaters have mostly been ignored, save when they can be trotted out for the cameras like Pfc. Jessica Lynch. Used by the armed forces in greater numbers, women soldiers are not only serving in ways their predecessors never got to. One in three women who join the military will be raped or sexually assaulted by men in the military. Of the 94 women who have died in Iraqi or in Operation Iraqi Freedom, 36 died from "non-combat related injuries."

One of these was Pfc. LaVena Johnson. [...]

Through FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) and Congressional offices, Dr. and Mrs. Johnson, their family, and their friends relentlessly hounded the Department of the Army for answers about LaVena's death. They requested documents, and every piece of evidence led to yet another piece that had to be demanded and claimed. It took two and a half years before the Johnsons were able to see what had happened to their daughter.

Gemina13 draws on material posted at Shakesville and the LaVena Johnson website, as well as the CommonDreams article written by retired Army Col. Ann Wright.

I had the opportunity to exchange emails with Gemina13, and would like to thank her again for bringing LaVena's story to the wide DailyKos community.

Friday, July 11, 2008

New LaVena petition to Congress and the President

As you will recall, the original LaVena Johnson petition to the Armed Services Committees of the House and the Senate - asking those bodies to compel the Army to reopen the investigation of LaVena's death in Iraq - closed on May 23. I'm currently arranging with an organization for delivery of the petition to the legislators on those committees.

For the many people who have recently heard of LaVena's story and are looking for ways to help, activist Danielle Vyas has launched a new and separate petition effort on the Care2 network (also noted by Bruce Combs in comments). The Justice for LaVena Johnson petition is addressed to both houses of Congress and President Bush. Danielle's goal is one thousand signatures; after a full day, the count currently stands at 108.

I am very grateful to Danielle for sponsoring this new petition. I'll add my own name to the list today. This effort belongs to no single person; the more voices that can be raised in support of the Johnson family, the better.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Foundation matters re: LaVena

A couple of kind folks asked in correspondence if there was a fund or foundation related to the Johnsons and their fight to reopen the investigation of daughter LaVena’s death in Iraq. LaVena’s father, Dr. John Johnson, informed me yesterday that there are plans in the works for just such an organization. The working title is The LaVena Lynn Johnson Legal Foundation. The purpose will be broader than just LaVena’s case; the foundation will bring attention to other women in the military, women who have been sexually assaulted.

Dr. Johnson and some others are working on the bylaws of the organization, on a purpose/mission statement, on projected budgetary matters. Donations will be welcome when things get to that point. It’s early in the process and there will be more news to come. I will certainly post developments on the LaVena website, and perhaps here as well. If you haven’t done so already, you may want to bookmark the LaVena site or (even better) subscribe to the site’s RSS feed so you don’t miss any announcements. Thanks.

Wikipedia page for LaVena

In the wake of several online articles on the death in Iraq of PFC LaVena Johnson and her family's efforts to prompt a renewed investigation by the Army, Loren from Chicago saw that there was no Wikipedia entry for LaVena and so created one. There are links to several references and also to the official LaVena website. I am very grateful to Loren for this; it had not occurred to me to create a Wikipedia entry. The efforts and ideas of other people are invaluable and can only help bring greater attention to LaVena's story.