Monday, April 28, 2008

Is There an Army Cover-Up of Rape and Murder of Women Soldiers?

By Ann Wright

Army Cover-Up of Rape and Murder?
Monday 28 April 2008

The Department of Defense statistics are alarming - one in three women who join the US military will be sexually assaulted or raped by men in the military. The warnings to women should begin above the doors of the military recruiting stations, as that is where assaults on women in the military begin - before they are even recruited.

But, now, even more alarming, are deaths of women soldiers in Iraq and in the United States following rape. The military has characterized each death of women who were first sexually assaulted as deaths from "noncombat related injuries," and then added "suicide." Yet, the families of the women whom the military has declared to have committed suicide strongly dispute the findings and are calling for further investigations into the deaths of their daughters. Specific US Army units and certain US military bases in Iraq have an inordinate number of women soldiers who have died of "noncombat related injuries," with several identified as "suicides."

Ninety-four US military women have died in Iraq or during Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). Twelve US civilian women have been killed in OIF. Thirteen US military women have been killed in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF). Twelve US Civilian women have been killed in Afghanistan.

Of the 94 US military women who died in Iraq or in OIF, the military says 36 died from noncombat related injuries, which included vehicle accidents, illness, death by "natural causes" and self-inflicted gunshot wounds, or suicide. The military has declared the deaths of the Navy women in Bahrain, which were killed by a third sailor, as homicides. Five deaths have been labeled as suicides, but 15 more deaths occurred under extremely suspicious circumstances.

Eight women soldiers from Fort Hood, Texas, (six from the Fourth Infantry Division and two from the 1st Armored Cavalry Division) have died of "noncombat related injuries" on the same base, Camp Taji, and three were raped before their deaths. Two were raped immediately before their deaths and another raped prior to arriving in Iraq. Two military women have died of suspicious "noncombat related injuries" on Balad base, and one was raped before she died. Four deaths have been classified as "suicides."

Nineteen-year-old US Army Pvt. Lavena Johnson was found dead on the military base in Balad, Iraq, in July, 2005, and her death characterized by the US Army to be suicide from a self-inflicted M-16 shot. On April 9, 2008, Dr. John Johnson and his wife Linda, parents of Private Johnson, flew from their home in St. Louis for meetings with US Congress members and their staffs. They were in Washington to ask that Congressional hearings be conducted on the Army's investigation into the death of their daughter, an investigation that classified her death as a suicide despite extensive evidence suggesting she was murdered.

From the day their daughter's body was returned to them, the parents had grave suspicions about the Army's investigation into Lavena's death and the characterization of her death as suicide. In charge of a communications facility, Lavena was able to call home daily. In those calls, she gave no indication of emotional problems or being upset. In a letter to her parents, Lavena's commanding officer Capt. David Woods wrote, "Lavena was clearly happy and seemed in very good health both physically and emotionally."

In viewing his daughter's body at the funeral home, Dr. Johnson was concerned about the bruising on her face. He was puzzled by the discrepancy in the autopsy report on the location of the gunshot wound. As a US Army veteran and a 25-year US Army civilian employee who had counseled veterans, he was mystified how the exit wound of an M-16 shot could be so small. The hole in Lavena's head appeared to be more the size of a pistol shot rather than an M-16 round.

He questioned why the exit hole was on the left side of her head, when she was right handed. But the gluing of military uniform white gloves onto Lavena's hands, hiding burns on one of her hands, is what deepened Dr. Johnson's concerns that the Army's investigation into the death of his daughter was flawed.

Over the next two and one-half years, Dr. and Mrs. Johnson and their family and friends relentlessly, through the Freedom of Information Act and Congressional offices requested the Department of the Army for documents concerning Lavena's death. With each response of the Army to the request for information, another piece of information/evidence about Lavena's death emerged.

The military criminal investigator's initial drawing of the death scene revealed Lavena's M16 was found perfectly parallel to her body. The investigator's sketch showed her body was found inside a burning tent, under a wooden bench, with an aerosol can nearby. A witness stated he heard a gunshot and, when he went to investigate, found a tent on fire, and when he looked into the tent, saw a body. The Army official investigation did not mention a fire or that her body had been burned.

After two years of requesting documents, one set of papers provided by the Army included a photocopy copy of a CD. Wondering why the photocopy copy was in the documents, Dr. Johnson requested the CD itself. With help from his local Congressional representative, the US Army finally complied. When Dr. Johnson viewed the CD, he was shocked to see photographs taken by Army investigators of his daughter's body as it lay where her body had been found, as well as other photographs of her disrobed body taken during the investigation.

The photographs revealed that Lavena, a small woman, barely five feet tall and weighing less than 100 pounds, had been struck in the face with a blunt instrument, perhaps a weapon stock. Her nose was broken and her teeth knocked backwards. One elbow was distended. The back of her clothes had debris on them indicating she had been dragged from one location to another.

The photographs of her disrobed body showed bruises, scratch marks and teeth imprints on the upper part of her body. The right side of her back as well as her right hand had been burned, apparently from a flammable liquid poured on her and then lighted. The photographs of her genital area revealed massive bruising and lacerations. A corrosive liquid had been poured into her genital area, probably to destroy DNA evidence of sexual assault.

Despite the bruises, scratches, teeth imprints and burns on her body, Lavena was found completely dressed in the burning tent. There was a blood trail from outside a contractor's tent to inside the tent. Apparently, she had been dressed after the attack and her attacker placed her body into the tent and set it on fire.

Investigator records reveal members of her unit said Lavena told them she was going jogging with friends on the other side of the base. One unit member walked with her to the Post Exchange where she bought a soda and then, in her Army workout clothes, went on by herself to meet friends and get exercise. The unit member said she was in good spirits with no indication of personal emotional problems.

The Army investigators initially assumed Private Johnson's death was a homicide and indicated that on their paperwork. However, shortly into the investigation, a decision apparently was made by higher officials that the investigators must stop the investigation into a homicide and to classify her death a suicide.

As a result, no further investigation took place into a possible homicide, despite strong evidence available to the investigators.

Another family that does not believe their daughter committed suicide in Iraq is the family of Army Pfc. Tina Priest, 20, of Smithville, Texas, who was raped by a fellow soldier in February, 2006, on a military base known as Camp Taji. Priest was a part of the 5th Support Battalion, lst Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, Fort Hood, Texas. The Army said Tina was found dead in her room on March 1, 2006, of a self-inflicted M-16 shot, a "suicide", 11 days after the rape. Private Priest's mother, Joy Priest, disputes the Army's findings. Mrs. Priest said she talked several times with her daughter after the rape, and while very upset about the rape, she was not suicidal. Priest continues to challenge the Army's 800 pages of investigative documents with a simple question: How could her petite, five-foot-tall daughter, with a short arm length, have held the M-16 at the angle that would have resulted in the gunshot? The Army attempted several explanations, but each was debunked by Mrs. Priest and by the 800 pages of materials provided by the Army itself. The Army now says Tina used her toe to pull the trigger of the weapon that killed her. The Army never investigated Tina's death as a homicide, but only as a suicide.

Rape charges against the soldier whose sperm was found on her sleeping bag were dropped a few weeks after her death. He was convicted of failure to obey an order and sentenced to forfeiture of $714 for two months, 30 days restriction to the base and 45 days of extra duty.

On the same Camp Taji, ten days later after Tina Priest was found dead, on May 11, 2006, a female US Army Pfc. (name known to author, but not identified for the article), 19, was found dead. She died three days after she suffered what the Army called "a self-inflicted gunshot". The Army claimed she, too, had committed suicide. In her room, where her body was found, investigators discovered her diary open to a page on which she had written about being raped during training, after unknowingly drinking a date-rape drug. The person identified in the diary as the rapist was charged by the Army with rape after her death. Many who knew her did not believe she shot herself, but there is no evidence of a homicide investigation by the Army.

The September 4, 2006, the death at Camp Taji of Pfc. Hannah Gunterman McKinney, 20, of the 44th Corps Support Battalion, Ft. Lewis, Washington, was investigated. Rather than having been run over by a military vehicle as she crossed a road from a guard tower to the latrine, as initially claimed by the Army, she fell, or was pushed from, and run over by a vehicle driven by a drunk sergeant from her unit, who had first sexually assaulted her. The sergeant pleaded guilty to drinking in a war zone, drunken driving and consensual sodomy with an underage, incapacitated junior soldier to whom he had supplied alcohol. A military judge ruled McKinney's death was an accident and the sergeant was sentenced to 13 months imprisonment, demotion to private, but he would not be discharged from the Army.

Other suspicious "noncombat related injury" deaths on Camp Taji include Fort Hood's 1st Armored Cavalry Division Pfc. Melissa J. Hobart (who died June 6, 2004), 1st Armored Cavalry Sgt. Jeannette Dunn (who died November 26, 2006), 89th Military Police Brigade Specialist Kamisha J. Block (who died August, 2007), 4th Infantry Division Specialist Marisol Heredia (who died September 7, 2007) and 4th Infantry Division Specialist Keisha M. Morgan (who died February, 22, 2008). None of the deaths have been classified as suicides, but the circumstances of their deaths should be investigated further because of serious questions concerning their deaths.

The US Army has classified the deaths of four other women as suicides. In the space of three months in 2006, three members of the US Army, who had been part of a logistics group in Kuwait, committed suicide. Two of them were women. In August 2006, Lt. Col. Marshall Gutierrez was arrested at a restaurant in Kuwait and accused of shaking down a laundry contractor for a $3,400 bribe. He was allowed to return to his quarters, and found dead on September 4, 2006, with an empty bottle of prescription sleeping pills and an open container of what appeared to be antifreeze.

Maj. Gloria D. Davis, 47, assigned to the Defense Security Assistance Agency, which handles the sales of military equipment to other countries, reportedly committed suicide in Baghdad on December 12, 2006, the day after she allegedly admitted to an Army investigator that she had accepted at least $225,000 in bribes from Lee Dynamics, a US Army contractor, who reportedly bribed officers for work in Iraq. Major Davis had a daughter, son and granddaughter. She had worked as a police officer, was a volunteer at women's shelters and helped get disadvantaged African-American students into ROTC programs.

New York Army National Guard Sgt. Denise A. Lannaman, 46, was assigned to a desk job at a procurement office in Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, that purchased millions of dollars in supplies. She received excellent performance ratings, her supervisor citing that her work eliminated misuse of funds by 36 percent. On October 1, 2006, Lannaman was questioned by a senior officer about the death of Lt. Col. Gutierrez, and reportedly told by that officer that she would be leaving the military in disgrace. Later in the day, she was found in a jeep, dead of a gunshot wound. While her family said she had attempted suicide four different times in her life, the Army has not ruled on the cause of Lannaman's death.

US Army interrogator Specialist Alyssa Renee Peterson, 27, assigned to C Company, 311th Military Intelligence Battalion, 101st Airborne Division, Ft. Campbell, Kentucky, was an Arabic linguist, who reportedly was very concerned about the manner in which interrogations were being conducted. She died on September 15, 2003, near Tal Afar, Iraq, in what the Army described as a gunshot wound to the head, a noncombat, self-inflicted weapons discharge, or suicide. Peterson reportedly objected to the interrogation techniques used on prisoners and refused to participate after only two nights working in the unit known as the cage. Members of her unit have refused to describe the interrogation techniques Peterson objected to. The military says all records of those techniques have now been destroyed. After refusing to conduct more interrogations, Peterson was assigned to guard the base gate, where she monitored Iraqi guards.

She was also sent to suicide-prevention training. On the night of September 15, 2003, Army investigators concluded she shot and killed herself with her service rifle. Family members challenge the Army's conclusion.

US Army Sgt. Melissa Valles, 26, assigned to Headquarters Detachment, Company B, 64th Forward Support Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, Fort Carson, Colorado, died on July 9, 2003, in Balad from two noncombat gunshot wounds to her abdomen. The Army has not ruled whether her death was a suicide or a homicide. But Valles's family stated that, although small in stature at five-foot-three, she was a tough person. "She really put people in their place. She did that since she was a girl. She would put little boys who were bullies in their place." The family does not believe Valles committed suicide.

One suspicious noncombat death of a military woman occurred in Afghanistan.

On September 28, 2007, Massachusetts Army National Guard Specialist Ciara Durkin, 30, a finance specialist, was found lying near a church on the very secure Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, with a single gunshot wound to her head. She had recently told her relatives to press for answers if anything happened to her while she was deployed in Afghanistan. When she was home three weeks prior to her death, she told her sister about something she had come across that raised some concern with her and that she had made some enemies because of it. Members of her family also questioned whether the fact that she was gay played a role in her death. They believe Ciara was killed by a fellow service member, intentionally or accidentally, and they are confident that she did not commit suicide.

In Bahrain, on January 16, 2007, US Navy Petty Officer First Class Jennifer A. Valdivia, 27, assigned to the naval security force for Naval Support Activity, Bahrain, was found dead three days after she was to report for duty on January 14. The Naval Criminal Investigative Service has classified her death as a suicide. Valdivia was kennel master of the largest military kennel in the world. In 2005, she was named Sailor of the Year at the Bahrain Naval Base.

The circumstances surrounding each of these deaths warrants further investigation by the US military. Congress can compel the military to reopen cases and provide further investigation. I strongly urge Congress to demand further investigation of the deaths of these women.

US Army Reserve Colonel, Retired, Ann Wright is a 29-year veteran of the Army and Army Reserves. She was also a US diplomat in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia, Afghanistan and Mongolia. She resigned from the US Department of State in March 19, 2003, in opposition to the Iraq War. She is the co-author of "Dissent: Voices of Conscience."

--submitted by Patti Woodard

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

VA Tried to Conceal Extent of Attempted Veteran Suicides, Email Shows

By Jason Leopold

(The Intelligence Daily) -- Top officials at the Veterans Administration tried to conceal information from the public about the sudden increase of attempted suicides among veterans that were treated or sought help at VA hospitals around the country, a previously undisclosed internal VA email indicates.

The email was disclosed Tuesday in a federal trial at a courthouse in Northern California where two veterans advocacy groups filed a class-action lawsuit against the VA alleging that a systematic breakdown at the VA has led to an epidemic of suicides among war veterans. These groups claim the VA has turned away veterans who have sought help for posttraumatic stress disorder and were suicidal. Some of the veterans, the lawsuit claims, later took their own lives.

The organizations who filed the lawsuit, Veterans for Common Sense and Veterans United for Truth, want a federal judge to issue a preliminary injunction to force the VA to immediately treat veterans who show signs of PTSD and are at risk of suicide and overhaul internal system that handles benefits claims. PTSD is said to be the most prevalent mental disorder arising from combat.

The Feb. 13., 2008, email, disclosed in federal court Tuesday, was sent to Ira Katz, the VA’s mental health director by Ev Chasen, the agency’s chief communications director.
Chasen sought guidance from Katz about interview queries from CBS News, which reported extensively on veterans suicides last year.

“Is the fact that we’re stopping [suicides] good news, or is the sheer number bad news? And is this more than we’ve ever seen before? It might be something we drop into a general release about our suicide prevention efforts, which (as you know far better than I) prominently include training employees to recognize the warning signs of suicide,” Chasen wrote Katz in an email titled "Not for CBS News Interview Request."

Katz’s response is startling. He said the VA has identified nearly 1,000 suicide attempts per month among war veterans treated by the VA. His response to Chasen indicates that he did not want the VA to immediately release any statistical data confirming that number, but rather suggested that the agency quietly slip the information into a news release.

“Shh!” Katz wrote in his response to Chasen. “Our suicide prevention coordinators are identifying about 1000 suicide attempts per month among the veterans we see in our medical facilities. Is this something we should (carefully) address ourselves in some sort of release before someone stumbles on it?”

The February email was sent shortly after the VA gave CBS News data that showed only a total of 790 attempted suicides in 2007 among veterans treated by the VA. In an email sent to the network Monday after Katz's email was disclosed in court, he denied a "cover-up" and said he did not disclose the true figures of attempted suicides because he was unsure if it was accurate.

In a December email Katz sent to Brig. Gen. Michael J. Kussman, the undersecretary for health at the Veterans Health Administration within the VA, that roughly 126 veterans of all wars commit suicide per week. He added that data the agency obtained from the Center for Disease Control showed that 20 percent of the suicides in the country are identified as war veterans.
The “VA’s own data demonstrate 4-5 suicides per day among those who receive care from us,” Katz said in the email he sent to Kussman.

Pehaps underscoring just how underprepared the VA was for the number of PTSD cases to emerge from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, documents released to support the plaintiffs’ allegations show that prior to the U.S. Invasion of Iraq the VA believed it would likely see a maximum of 8,000 cases where veterans showed signs of PTSD.

Last week, the RAND Corporation released a study that said about 300,000 U.S. troops sent to combat in Iraq and Afghanistan are suffering from major depression or PTSD, and 320,000 received traumatic brain injuries. Since October 2001, about 1.6 million U.S. troops have deployed to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many soldiers have completed more than two tours of duty meaning they are exposed to prolonged periods of combat-related stress or traumatic events.

“There is a major health crisis facing those men and women who have served our nation in Iraq and Afghanistan," said Terri Tanielian, a researcher at RAND who worked on the study. “Unless they receive appropriate and effective care for these mental health conditions, there will be long-term consequences for them and for the nation. Unfortunately, we found there are many barriers preventing them from getting the high-quality treatment they need.”

Those are statistics Paul Sullivan, the executive director of Veterans for Common Sense, has been warning lawmakers about for several years.

“The scope of PTSD in the long term is enormous and must be taken seriously. When all of our 1.6 million service members eventually return home from Iraq and Afghanistan, based on the current rate of 20 percent, VA may face up 320,000 total new veterans diagnosed with PTSD,” Sullivan told a Congressional committee in July 2007. If America fails to act now and overhaul the broken DoD and VA disability systems, there may a social catastrophe among many of our returning Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans. That is why VCS reluctantly filed suit against VA in Federal Court...Time is running out”

Sullivan has urged Congress to enact legislation to immediately overhaul the VA.

“Congress should legislate a presumption of service connection for veterans diagnosed [with] PTSD who deployed to a war zone after 9/11,” Sullivan told lawmakers last year. “A presumption makes it easier for dedicated and hard-working VA employees to process veterans’ claims. This results in faster medical treatment and benefits for our veterans.”

Yet despite Sullivan’s dire predictions and calls for legislative action the issue has not been given priority treatment by lawmakers. Instead, Congress continued to fund the war in Iraq to the tune of about $200 billion and will likely pour another $108 billion into Iraq later next month.

Meanwhile, a backlog of veterans’ benefits claims continue to pile up at the VA.

The VA said it has hired more than 3,000 mental healthcare professionals over the past two years to deal with the increasing number of PTSD cases, but the problems persist.

VA Says Vets Not ‘Entitled’ to Healthcare

In opening statements Monday, Richard Lepley, a Justice Department attorney, said the VA runs a "world-class health care system."

But Gordon Erspamer, the lead attorney representing the two veterans groups, said the VA has arbitrarily denied coverage to thousands of vets, that it takes nearly a year to decide whether it will provide coverage to veterans suffering from PTSD, and takes as long as four years for the VA to address veterans appeals cases.

“Seeking help from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs... involves a two-track system,” says a copy of the plaintiff’s trial brief filed in federal court last week.“A veteran will go to the Veterans’ Health Administration for diagnosis and medical care; and a veteran goes to the Veterans’ Benefits Administration to apply for service-connection and disability compensation...

“VA is failing these veterans as they move along both of these parallel tracks. They are not receiving the healthcare to which they are entitled (and where they do receive it, it is unreasonably delayed) and they are not able to get timely compensation for their disabilities, which means that they have no safety net. These two problems combine to create a perfect storm for PTSD veterans: they receive no treatment, so their symptoms get worse; and they receive no compensation, so they cannot go elsewhere for treatment. The failings of these two separate but interrelated systems are what this action seeks to address.”

The lawsuit the groups filed alleges that numerous VA practices stemming from a 1998 law violate the constitutional and statutory rights of veterans suffering from PTSD by denying veterans mandated medical care.

Justice Department attorneys had argued in court papers filed last month that Iraq and Afghanistan veterans were not "entitled" to the five-years of free healthcare upon their return from combat as mandated by Congress in the "Dignity for Wounded Warriors Act." Rather, the VA argued, medical treatment for the war veterans was discretionary based on the level of funding available in the VA's budget.

But during a court hearing hearing last month before U.S. District Court Judge Samuel Conti, Dr. Gerald Cross, the Principal Deputy Under Secretary for Health, Veterans Health Administration, said that veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan were not only entitled to free healthcare, but he said "there is no co-pay."

Soldier’s Suicide Warnings Ignored

Chris Scheuerman, a retired Special Forces masters sergeant, testified before a Congressional committee last month that there is an urgent need for mental healthreform in the military.
Scheuerman said his son, Pfc. Jason Scheuerman, went to see an Army psychologist because he had been suicidal.

The Army psychologist wrote up a report saying Jason Scheuerman “was capable of (faking) mental illness in order to manipulate his command,” according to documents the soldiers father turned over to Congress.

“Jason desperately needed a second opinion after his encounter with the Army psychologist,” Chris Scheuerman testified in mid-March before the Armed Services Committee’s Military Personnel Subcommittee.

“The Army did offer him that option, but at his own expense. How is a PFC (private first class) in the middle of Iraq supposed to get to a civilian mental health care provider at his own expense?” he said. “I believe a soldier should be afforded the opportunity to a second opinion via teleconference with a civilian mental health care provider of their own choice.”

Jason Scheuerman shot himself with a rifle on July 30, 2005. The 20-year-old’s suicide note was nailed to the close in his barracks. It said, “Maybe now I can get some peace.”

Investigative journalist Jason Leopold is the author of the bestselling memoir, News Junkie. Visit for a preview.

--submitted by Lois Vanderbur

Monday, April 21, 2008

Mother Fights Army Over Son's Death

By ROBERT IMRIE – Mar 23, 2008

WAUSAU, Wis. (AP) — Joan McDonald believes her son was a casualty of the war in Iraq, but the Army says that while he did suffer a severe head wound in a bomb blast, the cause of his death is undetermined, keeping him off the casualty list.

She and her family are demanding more answers in the death of Sgt. James W. McDonald.

"I don't want it to be an undetermined cause of death," said Joan McDonald. "That is ridiculous."

McDonald, 26, was injured in a roadside bomb blast in Iraq last May. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment based at Fort Hood, Texas. After treatment in Germany, McDonald returned to Fort Hood and underwent extensive facial surgery in August.

His body was found in his barracks apartment Nov. 12, a Monday. He was last seen alive the previous Friday.

The Army ruled out suicide and accidental factors, but an autopsy could not determine the exact cause of death, in part because of the decomposition of the body, said Col. Diane Battaglia, a base spokeswoman.

As a result, McDonald's death is considered noncombat-related, with the caveat that medical experts couldn't rule out that "traumatic brain injury" may have been a factor, Battaglia said.
Joan McDonald, of Neenah, has no doubts about her son's death.

"If my son was not at the war, he would not be dead, plain and simple," she said. "He was a strong healthy boy. ... Don't tell me it was unrelated to the war. I will never accept that."

Tom Wilborn, a spokesman for Disabled American Veterans in Washington, said the question of whether McDonald was a war casualty is the first that he was aware of from the Iraq war.

"But it happened a lot during Vietnam," he said. "There's a long history where guys would be wounded in the jungle and they might live long enough to come home. And then they would pass away and were not counted as a combat casualty."

According to an Army study in 2007, 1.4 million people in the U.S. suffer traumatic brain injuries each year. Of those, 50,000 die, 235,000 are hospitalized and 1.1 million are evaluated, treated at a hospital emergency department and released.

A Government Accountability Office study found that of soldiers who required a medical evacuation for battle-related injuries in Iraq or Afghanistan, 30 percent suffered a traumatic brain injury. But it was unknown how many soldiers suffered more mild forms of brain injury.

The family has asked Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., for help. McDonald has a copy of a March 11 letter Feingold sent to Maj. Gen. Galen Jakman at the Pentagon outlining her concerns.

McDonald said her son was a strapping 6-foot-3, 200-pound soldier who served two tours of duty in Iraq and loved the military.

"He was having a problem sleeping since he came back from the war. I don't think it had anything to do with sleep apnea. I think it had to do with bombs," she said.

He also had seen a doctor because of severe nose bleeds but was told the symptoms were not that unusual, given his August surgery, she said.

Before he died, McDonald had worked on the base at a weapons room and the post office, she said. He had planned to leave the Army in January to pursue a career in firefighting.

She said she recently ran across a T-shirt that said he helped build a memorial wall at Fort Hood to honor its soldiers killed in Iraq.

"I want his name on that wall," she said. "We don't know what else to do. I have one brother who is saying 'Does it matter. To you, he is a casualty of war. To everyone that knew him, he is a casualty of war.' I am like, well, it kinda does matter."

Monday, April 14, 2008

Newspaper Carries Word of Another Mysterious U.S. Soldier Death in Iraq

By Greg Mitchell

Published: April 13, 2008 1:30 PM ET

NEW YORK For the past five years, since shortly after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, I have chronicled -- often a lonely pursuit -- the deaths of nearly one thousand U.S. military personnel who have died in that war from "non-hostile" causes. These include deaths from illness, accident, friendly fire and suicide. The suicide rate has surged in the past few years, as multiple tours increased, and this has always seemed especially haunting for me.

Word emerged yesterday of another mysterious, non-hostile fatality. His name is Jeremiah Hughes. The army is investigating and may never release its findings.

But the final "mood" icon on his MySpace page, I discovered today, was a frown -- with the word: "Crushed."

Army Spc. Jeremiah Hughes, 26, left for Iraq in December with the Stryker brigade from Hawaii -- three years after a previous tour. An article in the Honolulu Advertiser yesterday quotes an entry from his MySpace page just before he was deployed: "I'm gonna hate being away from my wife for over a year. And I'm gonna hate not being able to spend time with her, or my friends, or my dogs. I'm really gonna dislike not being able to drink every once in a while when I get irritated by the things around me. And then of course, I can't say that I'm gonna be too fond of people shooting at me again, or trying to blow me up again, or any of that stupid stuff."

The Pentagon announced that he died Wednesday in Balad, Iraq, "from injuries sustained in a noncombat incident in Abu Ghraib." His wife survives him.

Often, as I have written, local newspapers are first to reveal the true causes of death, gathering information from family or friends. There are several chapters about these sad cases in my new book on Iraq and the media, including the story of Alyssa Peterson (which I recently highlighted here) who took her life after refusing to engage in torture interrogations.
Greg Mitchell's new book is "So Wrong for So Long: How the Press, the Pundits -- and the President -- Failed on Iraq." It features a preface by Bruce Springsteen and a foreword by Joe Galloway.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Updates on the Maria Lauterbach Case

I hope we can find out what happened now so her family and friends will know. Altho I don't know if the authorities will get the truth out of him or not.
Missing Marine

14 more stories about Maria Lauterbach

--submitted by Patti Woodard

Friday, April 11, 2008

Army under stress from long wars

By PAULINE JELINEK, Associated Press Writer
Thu Apr 10, 2:15 AM ET

U.S. soldiers are committing suicide at record levels, young officers are abandoning their military careers, and the heavy use of forces in Iraq has made it harder for the military to fight conflicts that could arise elsewhere.

Unprecedented strains on the nation's all-volunteer military are threatening the health and readiness of the troops.

While the spotlight Wednesday was on congressional hearings with the U.S. ambassador and commanding general for Iraq, Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Richard Cody was in another hearing room explaining how troops and their families are being taxed by long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the prospect of future years of conflict in the global war on terror.

"That marathon has become an enduring relay and our soldiers continue to run — and at the double time," Cody said. "Does this exhaust the body and mind of those in the race, and those who are ever present on the sidelines, cheering their every step? Yes. Has it broken the will of the soldier? No."

And it's not just the people that are facing strains.

Military depots have been working in high gear to repair or rebuild hundreds of thousands of pieces of equipment — from radios to vehicles to weapons — that are being overused and worn out in harsh battlefield conditions. The Defense Department has asked for $46.5 billion in this year's war budget to repair and replace equipment damaged or destroyed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Both the Army and Marine Corps have been forced to take equipment from non-deployed units and from pre-positioned stocks to meet needs of those in combat — meaning troops at home can't train on the equipment.

National Guard units have only an average of 61 percent of the equipment needed to be ready for disasters or attacks on the U.S., Missouri Democrat Ike Skelton lamented at Wednesday's hearing of the House Armed Services Committee.

Cody and his Marine counterpart, Gen. Robert Magnus, told the committee they're not sure their forces could handle a new conflict if one came along.

The Pentagon and Congress have worked in recent years to increase funding, bolster support programs for families, improve care for soldiers and Marines and increase the size of both forces to reduce the strain. Cody said the U.S. must continue the investment, continue to support its armed forces and have an "open and honest discussion" about the size of military that is needed for today's demands.

An annual Pentagon report this year found there was a significant risk that the U.S. military could not quickly and fully respond to another outbreak elsewhere in the world. The classified risk assessment concluded that long battlefield tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, along with persistent terrorist activity and other threats, are to blame.

The review grades the armed services' ability to meet the demands of the nation's military strategy — which would include fighting the current wars as well any potential outbreaks in places such as North Korea, Iran, Lebanon or China.

Similarly, a 400-page January report by the independent Commission on the National Guard and Reserves found the force isn't ready for a catastrophic chemical, biological or nuclear attack on this country, and National Guard forces don't have the equipment or training they need for the job.

Strain on individuals has been repeatedly documented.

It contributes to the difficulty in getting other Americans to join the volunteer military. The Army struggles to find enough recruits each year and to keep career soldiers.

Thousands more troops each year struggle with mental health problems because of the combat they've seen. The lengthening of duty tours to 15 months from 12 a year ago also has been blamed for problems as has the fact that soldiers are being sent back for two, three or more times.

President Bush will announce on Thursday that the length of tours will go back to 12 months for Army units heading to war after Aug. 1, defense officials said Wednesday.

Some 27 percent of soldiers on their third or fourth combat tours suffered anxiety, depression, post-combat stress and other problems, according to an Army survey released last month. That compared with 12 percent among those on their first tour.

In Afghanistan a range of mental health problems increased, and 11.4 percent of those surveyed reported suffering from depression.

Medical professionals themselves are burning out and said in the survey that they need more help to treat the troops. The report also recommended longer home time between deployments and more focused suicide-prevention training. It said civilian psychologists and other behavioral health professionals should be sent to the warfront to augment the uniformed corps.

Though separate data reported on divorce rates appeared to be holding steady last year, soldiers say they are having more problem with their marriages due to the long and repeated separations.

As many as 121 troops committed suicide in 2007, an increase of some 20 percent over 2006, according to preliminary figures released in January.

If all are confirmed that would be more than double the 52 reported in 2001, before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks prompted the Bush administration to launch the war in Afghanistan.

--submitted by Lois Vanderbur

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Why Did U.S. Soldier Kill Herself -- After Refusing to Take Part in Torture?

-- from the Huffington Post:

They served in the same battalion in Iraq at the same time. Kayla Williams spoke with Alyssa Peterson about the young woman's troubles a week before she died -- and afterward, attended her memorial service. Williams even has her own Iraq interrogation horror story to tell. So what, in Williams' view, caused Alyssa Peterson to put a bullet in her head in September 2003 after just a few weeks in Iraq? And why were the press and the public not told about it?

The death of Alyssa Peterson, which I chronicled here last month, is unspeakably sad, and what was fully in her mind will never be known, especially since her parents apparently knew little about her death until years after it happened. The press, which has rarely challenged the official version of Iraq fatalities, has not probed the incident, to this day (although it is featured in two chapters in my new book on Iraq and the media). But this tragedy also begs the question: Which interrogation techniques drew her ire?

And were they of such a nature that this might explain why this young woman of Mormon faith and, reportedly, good nature would suddenly turn a gun on herself?

The official Army investigation notes that all papers relating to the interrogations have been destroyed. But what do we know about what was going on in Iraq in 2003, beyond credible claims that treatment of prisoners was being "Gitmo-ized"?

Perhaps the most specific testimony that may relate to Alyssa Peterson comes from another Arabic-speaking female U.S. soldier who also served in the 101st Airborne at that time in the same region of Iraq. She even wrote a book partly about it. This is former Army sergeant Kayla Williams, author of the 2005 memoir, Love My Rifle More Than You. Much of the media publicity about the book focused on her accounts of sexual tension or harassment in Iraq, but it also holds several key passages about interrogations.

In the book, Williams, now 30 and out of the Army, described how she had been recruited to briefly take part in over-the-line interrogations. Like Peterson, she protested torture techniques -- such as throwing lit cigarettes at prisoners -- and was quickly shifted away. But she told me that she is still haunted by the experience and wonders if she objected strongly enough.

Williams and Peterson were both interpreters -- but only the latter was in "human intelligence," that is, trained to take part in interrogations. They met by chance when Williams, who had been on a mission, came back to the base in Tal Afar in September 2003 before heading off again. A civilian interpreter asked her to speak to Peterson, who seemed troubled. Like others, Williams found her to be a "sweet girl." Williams asked if she wanted to go to dinner, but Peterson was not free -- maybe next time, but of course time ran out.

Their one conversation, Williams told me, centered on personal, not military, problems, and it's hard to tell where it fit in the suicide timeline. According to records of an Army probe that were obtained by radio reporter Kevin Elston, Peterson had protested, and asked out of, interrogations after just two days in what was known as "the cage" -- and killed herself shortly after that. This might have all transpired just after her encounter with Williams, or it might have happened before and she did not mention it -- they did not really know each other.

Peterson's suicide on Sept. 15 -- reported to the press and public as death by "non-hostile gunshot," usually meaning an accident -- was the only fatality suffered by the battalion during their entire time in Iraq, Williams reports. At the memorial service, everyone knew the cause of her death.

Shortly after that, Williams (a three-year Army vet at the time) was sent to the 2nd Brigade's Support Area in Mosul, and she described what happened next in her book. Brought into the "cage" one day on a special mission, she saw fellow soldiers hitting a naked prisoner in the face. "It's one thing to make fun of someone and attempt to humiliate him. With words. That's one thing. But flicking lit cigarettes at somebody -- like burning him -- that's illegal," Williams writes. Soldiers later told her that "the old rules no longer applied because this was a different world. This was a new kind of war."

Here's what she told Soledad O'Brien of CNN on Sept. 26 of this year: "I was asked to assist. And what I saw was that individuals who were doing interrogations had slipped over a line and were really doing things that were inappropriate. There were prisoners that were burned with lit cigarettes.

"They stripped prisoners naked and then removed their blindfolds so that I was the first thing they saw. And then we were supposed to mock them and degrade their manhood. And it really didn't seem to make a lot of sense to me. I didn't know if this was standard. But it did not seem to work. And it really made me feel like we were losing that crucial moral higher ground, and we weren't behaving in the way that Americans are supposed to behave."

As soon as that day ended, after a couple of these sessions, she told a superior she would never do it again.

In another CNN interview, on Oct. 8, 2005, she explained: "I sat through it at the time. But after it was over I did approach the non-commissioned officer in charge and told him I think you may be violating the Geneva Conventions. . . . He said he knew and I said I wouldn't participate again and he respected that, but I was really, really stunned. . . ."

So, given all this, what does Williams think pushed Alyssa Peterson to shoot herself one week after their only meeting? The great unknown, of course, is what Peterson was asked to witness or do in interrogations. We do know that she refused to have anything more to do with that after two days -- or one day longer than it took for Williams to reach her breaking point.

Properly, Williams points out that it's rarely one factor that leads to suicide, and Peterson had some personal problems, to be sure. "It's always a bunch of things coming together to the point you feel so overwhelmed that there's no way out," Williams says. "I witnessed abuse, I felt uncomfortable with it, but I didn't kill myself, because I could see the bigger context.

"I felt a lot of angst about whether I had an obligation to report it, and had any way to report it. Was it classified? Who should I turn to?" Perhaps Alyssa Peterson felt in the same box.

"It also made me think," Williams says, "what are we as humans, that we do this to each other? It made me question my humanity and the humanity of all Americans. It was difficult, and to this day I can no longer think I am a really good person and will do the right thing in the right situation." Such an experience might have been truly shattering to the deeply religious Peterson.

Referring to that day in Mosul, Williams says, "I did protest but only to the person in charge and I did not file a report up the chain of command." Yet, after recounting her experience there, she asks: "Can that lead to suicide? That's such an act of desperation, helplessness, it has to be more than that." She concludes, "In general, interrogation is not fun, even if you follow the rules. And I didn't see any good intelligence being gained. The other problem is that, in situations like that, you have people that are not terrorists being picked up, and being questioned. And, if you treat an innocent person like that, they walk out a terrorist."

Or, maybe in this case, if an innocent person witnesses such a thing, some may walk out as a likely suicide.

Greg Mitchell's new book is So Wrong for So Long: How the Press, the Pundits -- and the President -- Failed in Iraq. It has been hailed by our own Arianna, Bill Moyers, Glenn Greenwald, Paul Rieckhoff and others. It features a preface by Bruce Springsteen and a foreword by Joe Galloway.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Army silent on deaths of soldiers

By MARTIN J. KIDSTON - Independent Record - 04/03/08

The March death of a U.S. Army soldier with ties in Hardin remains under investigation, officials said Wednesday, bringing to two the number of Montana soldiers whose cause of death has not been released by the military.

Staff Sgt. Shawn Gillespie, who was born in Wyoming and grew up in Montana, died in King George, Va., on March 24. The cause of death has not been released by investigators.

“They’re not telling us,” said Col. Garth Scott, public relations officer for the Montana National Guard. “It’s under investigation. The cause of death is pending.”

Gillespie was not a Montana Guard soldier, but military protocol calls for Guard officials to answer media questions about the death of soldiers in their state, placing Scott in the difficult position of fielding media calls surrounding the case.

The 28-year-old soldier was stationed at Fort Meyer, Ga., headquarters for the U.S. Army.

Gillespie becomes the second soldier whose death is under investigation. On Dec. 13, Pvt. Daren Smith died in Baghdad from non-combat related injuries. Military investigators have yet to say what actually caused Smith’s death.

Smith served with a light infantry unit based out of Fort Polk, La. He lived in Butte before moving to Helena, where he graduated from high school in 2006 before joining the service in March the following year.

The Army’s Criminal Investigation Command in Washington, D.C., did not return calls by the Independent Record Wednesday regarding the two soldiers’ deaths.

On Wednesday, Gov. Brian Schweitzer ordered both the national flag and state flag flown at half-staff starting today on Gillespie’s behalf.

“Out of respect for their family, we made the determination,” said Sarah Elliott, the governor’s press secretary.

Gillespie’s 28th birthday would have been today.

Reporter Martin Kidston: 447-4086 or