Friday, March 13, 2009

Families are asking but the military isn't telling.

The number of alleged sexual abuse cases against women in the military has reached startling and sickening proportions. The questions surrounding the death of Army Pfc. LaVena Johnson and the plight of U.S. Army Spec. Suzanne Swift have aroused the attention of all of America. Key members of Congress along with retired female officers are demanding answers to a number of unanswered questions along with explanations for some of the sobering statistics now brought to light. Rose Aguilar reported that the Miles Foundation, a non-profit organization that provides assistance to victims of military abuse, has cited 518 cases of sexual assault on women in the Middle East since the fall of 2003.

Having studied Criminal Justice in college; I took a couple of courses on forensics. The sad story of LaVena Johnson appears to have so many holes in it that someone with my limited knowledge of investigative protocol can see right through them. David Zucchino of the Los Angeles Times was able to garner information on the lax investigation from the father of LaVena; a veteran of the Army himself. Though understandably biased in its content; some of the accusations and questions posed by Mr. Johnson require further attention. He contends that the scene was staged in order to avoid any investigation into the possibility of rape and murder. Having read his account as well as the answers provided by the Army; my opinion is that the investigation was conducted so poorly that the notion of a cover up graduates from possible to extremely probable.

Zucchino reports that LaVena Johnson killed herself while cradling an M-16 rifle in her lap. This alone begs the question: Why didn’t she simply use a sidearm? Same result with less effort. Mr. Johnson contends that once he received pictures of the crime scene; he noticed both bruises and abrasions which seem to indicate a struggle. There were a number of discrepancies he found and it is important to note that he was forced to file a request under the Freedom of Information Act. The Army refused to provide him with this material. Christopher Grey, spokesman for the Army Criminal Investigation Council, called the investigation “thorough and closed.” Thorough-are you kidding me? Among the blatant errors in the “investigation” are the absence of a vaginal swab, the absence of a fingernail swab, and the failure to find the bullet. The Army’s explanation for their failure to find the bullet; it must have gone through an open flap in the storage tent where LaVena’s body was found. How convenient. I could fill page upon page noting the inconsistencies of this tragedy but I will close this with one note. In 2005, the Pentagon created an agency entitled the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office. It sounds official enough but there is one little twist that requires mentioning. They are not obligated to provide information to any law enforcement agency or the military command. I can’t take much more of this.

Col. Ann Wright (U.S.A. Retired) has publicly accused the military of “stonewalling” the families of the victims. For more on her views, go to Due largely in part to Col. Wright’s protestations and the outrage voiced by Rep. Lane Evans (D-Ill), Rose Aguilar reported that Congress mandated the Department of Defense to disclose the number of cases on sexual assault they have on file. In 2005, that number was 2,734 worldwide. A 65% increase from 2003 alone!! Rep. Evans is the ranking Democratic Member of the House Veteran’s Affairs Committee and publicly criticized the Bush administration for their failure to release these findings. What a surprise there.

I have never been a proponent of having women in combat zones. I say that at the risk of being politically incorrect and chauvinistic as well. That being said; I find the numbers to be another example of the government’s continued efforts to keep us in the dark. The families of these victims are entitled to answers; not the nonsense that the military has provided. I have two daughters of my own, 21 and 26. Though neither chose the military as a career path (Thank God); if something would have happened to them, I would have demanded to be told all of the circumstances relevant to their demise. The family of LaVena Johnson deserves this courtesy.

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