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Friday, July 11, 2008

Lavena Johnson Update

Before you send me another email, you need to call three people; your two US Senators and your House member and don't let the high school student answering the phone blow you off.

I have been getting a fresh wave of emails about the Lavena Johnson story. We posted about the story here last week. From Jezebel

When LaVena's father finally brought himself to look at his daughter's corpse in 2005, sent home from Iraq with a report that she'd committed suicide by shooting herself in the left side of her head with an M-16 — which, by the way, is not a handgun but a relatively long rifle, he thought there was something wrong.
Private LaVena Johnson's nose was broken, teeth were loose, one eye was concave and there were abrasions over her body. The supposed M-16 hole to the head was far too small for the revolver-sized exit wound, and was on the wrong side of her skull for a right-handed woman to have pulled the trigger. Her genital area showed evidence of acid, perhaps used to destroy DNA evidence. She had white military gloves glued to her burned hands.
Since then, the Army has continued to insist that the LaVena committed suicide by pointing her rifle with her non-dominant hand at the side of her head and set herself on fire, all after she beat herself up and poured acid on her genitals (since their was no apparent investigation into whatever happened there). Oh, and there was a trail of blood leading away from the tent where her body was found.
Her father has been trying for nearly 3 years to get someone — including Congress — to investigate the death of his daughter.

I have a few calls out on this story. I've called the office of the Chair of the House Armed Service Committee, the Congressional Black Caucus office, both of my US Senators and the House Armed Services Committee. I am waiting to hear back from the Armed Services Committee Communications staff. I gave them a pass because of the 4th of July holiday.

In the interim, according to my US Senator's office, you should go to the website of your two senators and House member and click on constituent services and have them open a case for you. The page may read like this:

Help for Solving Problems with Federal Agencies

Sometimes dealing with the federal bureaucracy is a challenge. My office can help when you run into problems on federal issues like Social Security, Medicare, Veterans Administration claims, student financial aid, Small Business Administration loans and the I.R.S. If you are experiencing a problem with a federal agency, please write to my Texas office, outlining the problem and requesting that I look into the matter on your behalf.

We ask that you fill out a privacy release form giving permission for Congressman Doggett to make inquiries on your behalf. You should also include any other documents or correspondence that you think may be helpful to my office in pursuing your case. My Texas office will contact you after receiving your letter.
Does not matter what party, you need to send your inquiry to all three of your federally elected representatives. You have two senators and one house member. Do the same thing for all three. Your senator's/house member's staffers will then make an inquiry to the Army on your behalf. You will likely have to fill out a privacy release form, but you do not have to provide your SSN or some of the other information on the form, that's for people with Social Security benefit dispute issues.

UPDATE: One of my readers got a meeting with staffers from their congresswoman's office EIGHT HOURS after doing what I told them to do. He says that the privacy release form is only for ties when they are searching for information about YOU on your own behalf. But do everything else anyway. Tell us your results.

Both of the political parties will be having platform development meetings and one of the platform issues you may want to propose is that they add the investigation of allegations of systematic sexual assault of service women to the platform. In addition, you need to call the House Armed Services Committee and inquire as to when and whether there will be a hearing. In addition, go to your elected representative's website and see if they are having a town hall forum. Take your supporting documentation with you and ask a question. All politics is local. You might also contact local victim's rights groups and tell them her story and the story of other service and see if they will join you in making your inquiry.

When I called the Congressional Black Caucus last week. The staffer I spoke with had never heard of her case and three of their members sit on the House Armed Services Committee. I had him pull up her case on Google while we were on the phone and was told he would be taking the matter to the three CBC members on the committee. If you do call the office and they have not heard of her case, then ask the person on the phone to Google her while you are on the phone and also be prepared to tell them her story in 90 seconds or less.

John McCain, the Republican nominee is on the Senate Armed Services Committee and so is Senator Hilllary Clinton, however your first step should be to speak to your elected representatives directly and in writing. Even if they stonewall you, somebody is going to have to take time out to write you a letter. When you make your official request for assistance, you should give some background of the LaVena Johnson story. Provide copies of the newspaper articles related to her case and the case of other servicewomen and tell them what you want from them. Tell them that you are concerned about Lavena, but also about allegations that servicewomen are dying of dehydration because they are afraid of being raped by other soldiers if they go to the latrine.
In 2003, three women died in their beds of dehydration because they had stopped drinking in the 50-degree heat late in the day for fear of going to the latrine at night. Camp generators were so loud they would muffle the sound of women's screams as their own soldiers jumped them and dragged them to the Port-a-Johns to be assaulted. NZ Herald

There are also allegations of a disproportionate number of servicewomen who are raped and subsequently murdered are being classified as having committed suicide. If these allegations are true, you want to know. If these allegations are false, you want to know. If they don't know whether the allegations are true or false, you want to know why they don't know.

When I follow up with a phone call to the Committee next week, I will formulate how I plan to go forward from there. YOU can always take another path. There has been a three year public awareness campaign, but somehow the only people with the power to do something in this case, CONGRESS, seem to be unaware of the Lavena Johnson story at all. At least by making a request, they cannot plead ignorance. I'll keep you posted. If you get different advice from somewhere else, feel free to post it in the comments.

You are not helpless, but you will never get more than what you demand. Before you send me another email, you need to call three people, your two US Senators and your House member and don't let the high school student answering the phone blow you off. Tell them you are a constituent and you want the Army to answer whatever questions you have and tf Army can't answer them, then make them tell you and your elected representatives why they can't answer those questions.

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