Wednesday, June 13, 2007

LaVena Johnson story reaches the United Kingdom

The UK-based news and activism site, NewsInkling, has posted a story on the case of Pfc. LaVena Johnson. The story's author, Waterflake, draws on the recent report by the Center for Media and Democracy, "War vs. Democracy: Untold Stories from the Lynch / Tillman Hearing." The piece was co-authored by SP Biloxi of Justice League who has also written about LaVena. Many thanks to the both of them!

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

By way of comparison

The petition asking that the Senate and House Armed Services Committees compel the Army to investigate anew the death of Pfc. LaVena Johnson stands at just over 3500 names at the moment. It has taken some three months to reach this point.

The petition to change the logo for the London 2012 Olympics passed 10,000 signatures in less than a day.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

"Worth the risk?": How the media chooses between sponsorship and the truth

The Bullpen of New York University's Department of Journalism provides an illustrative tale for anyone wondering about the lack of coverage of the LaVena Johnson case in the mainstream media. Alexandra Zendrian recounts a sobering story told by Vanessa Bush, executive editor of Essence:

Sometimes conflicts of interest arise when editors plan to run a story that involves an advertiser. Bush shared one such situation with students. The story in question was a wrongful death case involving the U.S. Army. Essence wanted to run an article in their February 2006 issue about Private First Class LaVena Johnson, who the Army said had shot and killed herself. But Johnson’s family was convinced that she had been brutally beaten, and intended to bring a wrongful death case against the Army. Because the Army is one of Essence’s biggest advertisers, the magazine had to consider whether running the article was worth the risk of losing the Army’s valuable advertising dollars.

In the end, they struck a compromise: the Army agreed to continue advertising in Essence and simply pulled their ads from that month’s issue. But it was a close call, Bush said, adding that “advertisers will walk away in a heartbeat.”

It is to the credit of Essence and its editors that the story made its way to print, but the "closeness" of the call is troubling. It is disturbingly easy to imagine other media outlets choosing to look the other way, ignoring LaVena's story in the name of advertising dollars.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

"Flags of our daughters"

Ann McGlynn of the Quad-City Times takes note of LaVena Johnson in a group of profiles of the nine American women soldiers under the age of 20 who have died in Iraq. The material on LaVena is based on an interview with LaVena's parents, John and Linda.

LaVena had been in Iraq for eight weeks when she called and talked to her mother July 17, 2005. They talked for an hour about plans for Christmas and the new job she was going to be starting in Iraq.

“We were talking and making plans and laughing,” Linda Johnson said. “There was no distress or anything like that.”

They told each other “I love you” over and over again.

Two Army officials knocked on the Johnsons’ door 48 hours later to tell them LaVena, 19, had died.

“That was the beginning of our hell,” Linda Johnson said.

The Army told them LaVena committed suicide. The Johnsons believe the evidence shows she was murdered.

New template for petition site

The layout of this website has been changed for enhanced readability and flexibility. Credit for the new design is posted at the bottom of the page.

Further modifications and additions are in the making and will be announced in due course.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Remember this

What do you say to the war dead on Memorial Day?

You tell them, perhaps, that you are sorry you never got the chance to know them. Who they were, what they loved and feared, what they hoped for. That opportunity is gone, replaced by mute stone and silent earth.

You tell them that you honor the choice they made in serving, even though that sacrifice goes unhonored by an army unwilling to answer families who want only to know how their loved ones died so far from home.

You vow to keep the unfulfilled promise of the dead in your heart. What they would have valued. What they might have accomplished. Who they would have been, if only.

On Memorial Day, you tell the war dead - you swear to them - that you will not forget.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Radio interviews re: LaVena Johnson

I will be doing two radio interviews regarding the LaVena Johnson story:

Today, Thursday, May 17, at 5:35 pm Central Time with host Lloyd Sloan on The Sloan Ranger Show. This will air on St. Louis, MO area station WGNU, AM 920. This is a follow-up to my March 9 interview there and will touch on more recent developments in the fight to compel the Army to reopen the investigation into LaVena's death. The show can be heard live over the Web (Windows Media Player); click the "Listen Live" link on the show's homepage.

Friday, May 18, at 5:05 pm Central Time with host Christiane Brown on The Solution Zone. This will air on Reno, NV area station KJFK, AM 1230, an Air America affiliate. The show will also feature Diane Farsetta, senior researcher for the Center on Media and Democracy, who wrote the recent report "War vs. Democracy: Untold Stories from the Lynch / Tillman Hearing." This broadcast cannot be heard over the Web, but I will try to make the interview available in a streaming or podcast format later.

Both of these events came up rather suddenly, so apologies for the rather short lead time.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Center for Media and Democracy notes LaVena Johnson story

Diane Farsetta, senior researcher for the Center for Media and Democracy, examines the subtexts of the April 24 House Oversight Committee hearing. In today's CMD Report titled "War vs. Democracy: Untold Stories from the Lynch / Tillman Hearing," Farsetta looks beyond the cases of Cpl. Pat Tillman and Pfc. Jessica Lynch to explore the rights and responsibilities of citizens during wartime when faced with military misinformation, embellishment, and deception.

A few things are clear. One is that the secrecy, deception and constraints sought by wartime administrations are anathema to the transparency, accountability and freedom necessary to democracy. As James Madison warned, "Of all the enemies of public liberty, war is perhaps the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other."

Another truism is that citizens retain the right to receive information and provide guidance to their government during wartime. The last is that, while security concerns may legitimately restrict what information can be shared when, maintaining civilian oversight of war operations helps ensure that human rights standards are upheld.

Farsetta takes special note of Pfc. LaVena Johnson and other soldiers who died or were wounded under unexplained circumstances in Iraq and elsewhere. The report goes on to focus on the many aspects of the committee hearing that were glossed over or ignored altogether by mainstream press coverage.

Farsetta's report is well worth reading. It is welcome not only for its recognition of LaVena Johnson and other fallen soldiers, but its exposure of a negligent media and its insights into the broader costs to democracy brought about by the war.

(As before, I ask you to sign the LaVena Johnson petition to the Senate and House Armed Services Committees, and to contact your legislator on those committees. Thanks.)

Friday, May 4, 2007

LaVena Johnson autopsy results: "inconclusive"

Last night's KMOV-TV story (including video) on the case of Pfc. LaVena Johnson - an account of her body's exhumation and autopsy - provided little progress in the attempt to clarify the cause of her death in Iraq in 2005. The autopsy team, which included St. Louis chief medical examiner Dr. Michael Graham and St. Louis County medical examiner Dr. Mary Case, reported inconclusive findings after a three-hour examination. The process will now move to include the weapon - an M-16 rifle - which may have fatally wounded LaVena. More findings will be posted as they are made available.

The KMOV report was made notable by the inclusion of a comment by Senator Claire McCaskill:

We've gotta find the truth about what happened to this young lady. Her family deserves that at a minimum, and we need to know in terms of keeping the armed services accountable.

McCaskill's comment marks the first time that the freshman senator from Missouri, and a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has spoken publicly on the LaVena Johnson story.

As the autopsy process moves forward, it is more important than ever that citizens continue to encourage Congress to bring its official attention to Lavena's story, and to compel the Army to revisit the investigation of her death. You can help by signing the petition to the Senate and House Armed Services Committees, then directly contacting your legislator on those committees.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

LaVena Johnson autopsy findings to air on KMOV

The Army claimed that Pfc. LaVena Johnson killed herself in Iraq in 2005; LaVena's parents maintain that their daughter was murdered. Last week, the Johnsons had LaVena's body exhumed for autopsy. St. Louis CBS affiliate KMOV-TV (channel 4) will air a report on the autopsy findings tonight at 10 pm Central. The promo for the report is available on the station's website. The full report will likely be posted there after the broadcast.

KMOV was the news station whose report on the LaVena Johnson story in February sparked renewed attention to the case.

Sunday, April 29, 2007 returns to LaVena's story

The website of activist and filmmaker Michael Moore has once more brought the attention of its readers to the case of LaVena Johnson with a front page link to the overall story, an audio clip of Representative Wm. Lacy Clay's opening statement on LaVena at the recent House Oversight Committee hearing, and a link to the petition addressed to the Senate and House Armed Services Committees. Many thanks to Mike and the website staff for their continued help in bringing public attention to LaVena's story.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

FOX 2 in St. Louis links to LaVena Johnson petition, website

St. Louis-based FOX affiliate KTVI (FOX 2) followed up on the LaVena Johnson story in the wake of Rep. Wm. Lacy Clay's televised statement on the case. The FOX 2 story is available for viewing at the station's website. The story's page also links prominently to both the petition page and the LaVena Johnson website. Many thanks to KTVI and reporter Chris Regnier.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Thanks to Congressman Clay

Representative William Lacy Clay of Missouri's First District brought LaVena Johnson's story to national attention in his opening statement at yesterday's Pat Tillman/Jessica Lynch hearing of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. If you would like to send him a word of thanks, you may use the information on this contact page. Please note that the email form only allows use by constituents living in Rep. Clay's district. No such limit applies to phone, fax, or postal mail messages, however.

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 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.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Remember to contact your legislator on the Armed Services Committee

I'd like to emphasize once more the importance of contacting your senator or representative who serves on the Senate or House Armed Services Committees. Signing the petition is a first step, but it's important that legislators hear directly from you about LaVena and her family.

I have reposted here the membership of both the Senate and House Armed Services Committees. The legislators' names are links to their contact pages, as before. For your convenience, I have added pop-up links to their telephone numbers and office addresses as well. If you choose to send a postal letter, it is highly recommended that you send it to a district office rather than the D.C. office, as delivery there may be delayed by weeks. No such problem with emails, or with phone calls or faxes to either office.

Whether you send a postal letter or an email to your senator or representative, remember to include your address with ZIP code. Generally speaking, legislators only pay attention to correspondence from their own constituents and do not read letters from other citizens, even if they do sit on committees. (A handy guide to writing a legislator is available at

UPDATE: The House ASC membership with complete contact info has been added to this post.

Senate Armed Services Committee
Carl Levin, Chairman (Michigan | numbers & addresses)
Claire McCaskill (Missouri | numbers & addresses)
Edward M. Kennedy (Massachusetts | numbers & addresses)
Robert C. Byrd (West Virginia | numbers & addresses)
Joseph I. Lieberman (Connecticut | numbers & addresses)
Jack Reed (Rhode Island | numbers & addresses)
Daniel K. Akaka (Hawaii | numbers & addresses)
Bill Nelson (Florida | numbers & addresses)
E. Benjamin Nelson (Nebraska | numbers & addresses)
Evan Bayh (Indiana | numbers & addresses)
Hillary Rodham Clinton (New York | numbers & addresses)
Mark L. Pryor (Arkansas | numbers & addresses)
Jim Webb (Virginia | numbers & addresses)

John McCain, Ranking Member (Arizona | numbers & addresses)
John W. Warner (Virginia | numbers & addresses)
James M. Inhofe (Oklahoma | numbers & addresses)
Jeff Sessions (Alabama | numbers & addresses)
Susan M. Collins (Maine | numbers & addresses)
John Ensign (Nevada | numbers & addresses)
Saxby Chambliss (Georgia | numbers & addresses)
Lindsey O. Graham (South Carolina | numbers & addresses)
Elizabeth Dole (North Carolina | numbers & addresses)
John Cornyn (Texas | numbers & addresses)
John Thune (South Dakota | numbers & addresses)
Mel Martinez (Florida | numbers & addresses)

House Armed Services Committee
Ike Skelton, Chairman (Missouri | numbers & addresses)
Gabrielle Giffords (Arizona | numbers & addresses)
Vic Snyder (Arkansas | numbers & addresses)
Susan A. Davis (California | numbers & addresses)
Loretta Sanchez (California | numbers & addresses)
Ellen O. Tauscher (California | numbers & addresses)
Mark Udall (Colorado | numbers & addresses)
Joe Courtney (Connecticut | numbers & addresses)
Kathy Castor (Florida | numbers & addresses)
Hank Johnson (Georgia | numbers & addresses)
Jim Marshall (Georgia | numbers & addresses)
Madeleine Bordallo (Guam | numbers & addresses)
Neil Abercrombie (Hawai'i | numbers & addresses)
Brad Ellsworth (Indiana | numbers & addresses)
David Loebsack (Iowa | numbers & addresses)
Nancy Boyda
(Kansas | numbers & addresses)
Elijah Cummings
(Maryland | numbers & addresses)
Marty Meehan
(Massachusetts | numbers & addresses)
Gene Taylor (Mississippi | numbers & addresses)
Carol Shea-Porter (New Hampshire | numbers & addresses)
Robert E. Andrews (New Jersey | numbers & addresses)
Kirsten Gillibrand (New York | numbers & addresses)
Mike McIntyre (North Carolina | numbers & addresses)
Dan Boren (Oklahoma | numbers & addresses)
Robert A. Brady (Pennsylvania | numbers & addresses)
Patrick Murphy (Pennsylvania | numbers & addresses)
Joe Sestak (Pennsylvania | numbers & addresses)
James R. Langevin (Rhode Island | numbers & addresses)
John M. Spratt, Jr. (South Carolina | numbers & addresses)
Jim Cooper (Tennessee | numbers & addresses)
Solomon P. Ortiz (Texas | numbers & addresses)
Silvestre Reyes (Texas | numbers & addresses)
Rick Larsen (Washington | numbers & addresses)
Adam Smith (Washington | numbers & addresses)

Duncan Hunter, Ranking Member (California | numbers & addresses)
W. Todd Akin (Missouri | numbers & addresses)
Terry Everett (Alabama | numbers & addresses)
Mike Rogers (Alabama | numbers & addresses)
Trent Franks (Arizona | numbers & addresses)
Ken Calvert (California | numbers & addresses)
Buck McKeon (California | numbers & addresses)
Jeff Miller (Florida | numbers & addresses)
Phil Gingrey (Georgia | numbers & addresses)
Geoff Davis (Kentucky | numbers & addresses)
Roscoe G. Bartlett (Maryland | numbers & addresses)
Candice S. Miller (Michigan | numbers & addresses)
John Kline (Minnesota | numbers & addresses)
Frank A. LoBiondo (New Jersey | numbers & addresses)
Jim Saxton (New Jersey | numbers & addresses)
John M. McHugh (New York | numbers & addresses)
Robin Hayes (North Carolina | numbers & addresses)
Walter B. Jones (North Carolina | numbers & addresses)
Michael R. Turner (Ohio | numbers & addresses)
Tom Cole (Oklahoma | numbers & addresses)
Joe Wilson (South Carolina | numbers & addresses)
K. Michael Conaway (Texas | numbers & addresses)
Mac Thornberry (Texas | numbers & addresses)
Rob Bishop (Utah | numbers & addresses)
Jo Ann Davis (Virginia | numbers & addresses)
Thelma D. Drake (Virginia | numbers & addresses)
J. Randy Forbes (Virginia | numbers & addresses)
Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Washington | numbers & addresses)

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Petition page back up

The petition page has been inaccessible during the late hours tonight (it was last accessed at 9:40 pm Central). I will post here when it comes back up (or afterwards if it returns while I'm asleep).

The petiton page is once more accessible (2:45 am Central) with no apparent problems.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Thank you to Fired Up! Missouri

Political strategist Roy Temple was kind enough to promote yesterday's piece on LaVena to the front page of Fired Up! Missouri. Many thanks to Roy and the readers of Fired Up!

Thanks to Facebook users!

As before - following the Crooks & Liars post on LaVena Johnson - the Facebook community is responding today with many visits to the petition page. My thanks to all of you!

Also: Don't forget to write!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Support from

In her first tour of duty in Iraq, Army Spc. Suzanne Swift was subjected to sexual harassment from one superior officer and coercion by another into a sexual affair. Rather than face that kind of degradation again, Spc. Swift refused to return for a second deployment to Iraq. The response from a military that should have moved to protect her was an arrest on AWOL charges, followed by a court-martial and being stripped of rank.

Suzanne's trials made an activist of her mother, Sara Rich, who has spoken widely on sexual harassment, abuse, and rape in the military in a way that her soldier daughter could not. She established a website dedicated to her daughter's struggle with a hostile military bureacracy,

Sara came across the petition for LaVena Johnson and volunteered to help by writing about it on Suzanne's website. She said also that Suzanne knew of LaVena's story and wanted to do something to help.

Sara and Suzanne have been gracious beyond words in embracing LaVena and her family in this way. To the extent that I can speak for LaVena's parents, I would like to convey their thanks.

When will Congress stand up for LaVena Johnson?

From today's Associated Press article on a U.S. House committee's quest for honest answers for two military families:

"After successive failed Department of Defense and Army inquiries, only a comprehensive, unrelenting congressional investigation can do justice to Pat's memory, and restore service members' confidence in their chain of command," said Rep. Mike Honda, a Democrat who represents the Tillman family's San Jose district. "I will not rest until the unvarnished truth - no matter where it leads - is brought to light."

If only Mike Honda represented the family of Pfc. LaVena Johnson.

It has taken the glare of notoriety and the force of public attention to finally bring the cases of Cpl. Pat Tillman and Pfc. Jessica Lynch to the point where Congress has declared its intent to uncover the facts behind the official deceptions in both cases - and even with that, it has taken years to get here. What solace does this give other service families who rightly question what they have been told about their loved ones in uniform? What lesson can be drawn by the parents of LaVena Johnson, whose death under clouded circumstances was written off as suicide by Army officials who have repeatedly refused calls for a reinvestigation of the case?

What does this tell the families of soldiers who aren't famous, whose names aren't known by the Associated Press or the New York Times or CNN?

The declared intent of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform to explore the cases of Cpl. Tillman and Pfc. Lynch is both laudable and overdue. The announcement that the House Armed Services Committee is "considering" looking into the Tillman case is welcome news - and, again, overdue. These announcements, belated as they are, show us one thing clearly: it is up to a concerned public to remind Congress of its duty toward other service families, those beyond the media spotlight. You can help to make a start by signing the Pfc. LaVena Johnson petition, and - of equal importance - by directly contacting your Senator or Representative on the House and Senate Armed Services Committees.

Congress clearly needs your leadership on this.