Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Loose Lips Sink Ships: Parallels and Connections

Stanley McChrystal was engaged in a pissing contest with Administration Officials. It’s worked for him in the past.

Surely, he knows that we can’t win in Afghanistan. “It's not going to look like a win, smell like a win or taste like a win," says Maj. Gen. Bill Mayville, who serves as chief of operations for McChrystal.”

“Today, as McChrystal gears up for an offensive in southern Afghanistan, the prospects for any kind of success look bleak. In June, the death toll for U.S. troops passed 1,000, and the number of IEDs has doubled. Spending hundreds of billions of dollars on the fifth-poorest country on earth has failed to win over the civilian population, whose attitude toward U.S. troops ranges from intensely wary to openly hostile.” It is unlikely that after all the years the US has spent in Afghanistan we will even undo the damage done to the country by the Taliban after they received US aid during the Soviet occupation.

“The general's staff is a handpicked collection of killers, spies, geniuses, patriots, political operators and outright maniacs.” “…they pride themselves on their can-do attitude and their disdain for authority.”

Still, unless the magic of positive thinking results in the refutation of history, McChrystal would have been the general in charge of losing. Getting himself fired was a way out. Maybe that was his intent in giving access to Rolling Stone reporter, Michael Hastings.

Publicly criticizing Biden, Eikenberry, Holbrooke, Jones, etc. fit his macho image and would be consistent with any plan to get out of his position of “sure-to-fail Commander.” He may have strategized a “best case” scenario for himself.

Military personnel on active duty, at any level, do not have the luxury of engaging in this type of public criticism. This is not accepted military demeanor.

What is the connection of this story with the handling of non-combat military deaths and the experiences of surviving families?

First, there appears to be a total disregard for the lower ranking military personnel who are in Afghanistan, in danger of death by I.E.D., suicide, accident, or fratricide. While the “pissing contest” proceeds at the highest levels of authority, people are dying. In the light of the hopelessness admitted by McChrystal’s aides, they are dying for nothing.

Let’s not forget McChrystal’s very active role in the cover up of Pat Tillman’s “friendly fire” death. He was also involved in a prisoner abuse scandal at Camp Nama in Iraq. Although one would think that McChrystal surely deserved demotion for all this -- he received regular promotions in rank and no punishment worth mentioning. All of these risky projects just helped him climb the ladder of success in his career.

I’d nearly forgotten that I wrote to my US Senators from Virginia when McChrystal was up for the Afghanistan Command, protesting that he was not worthy of such a distinction. No one paid attention.

Some of us have had experience with commanders who deny families access to information and have covered up for malfeasance. On a personal level, I can comment on the unseemly behavior of McChrystal and his team and draw parallels from the time of my son’s death and the media coverage shortly afterwards. There seemed to be no consequences for such actions -- until today.

Planting false stories in the press is something Stanley McChrystal would appear to approve of if the end result was politically expedient. Disseminating disinformation is not a skill that I admire. Sacrificing lives for personal gain is not a skill that I admire. Manipulating grieving families and causing pain in order to achieve some political goal is not a skill that I admire.

I hope that there will be a carryover to the entire US Military organization at all levels.


Quotations are from the article, “The Runaway General”, by Michael Hastings which appeared in Rolling Stone:

Revisiting the Pat Tillman Story, and McChrystal's Role
Did Pat Tillman Reach Out From the Grave?
Tillman Mother Sought to Warn Obama of McChrystal
General McChrystal's Ties to Pat Tillman Cover-up
General McChrystal's Credibility Problem

Friday, June 18, 2010

Suicide Rivals The Battlefield In Toll On U.S. Military

This is the link to a story which was  on NPR on June 17, 2010.

Nearly as many American troops at home and abroad have committed suicide this year as have been killed in combat in Afghanistan. Alarmed at the growing rate of soldiers taking their own lives, the Army has begun investigating its mental health and suicide prevention programs.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Army Releases May Suicide Data

The Army released suicide data today for the month of May. Among active-duty soldiers, there were nine potential suicides, and all remain under investigation. For April, the Army reported 10 potential suicides among active-duty soldiers. Since the release of that report, four have been confirmed as suicides, and six remain under investigation.

During May 2010, among reserve component soldiers who were not on active duty, there were 12 potential suicides: two have been confirmed and 10 remain under investigation. For April, among that same group, there were seven total suicides. Of those, two were confirmed as suicides and five are pending determination of the manner of death.

"The summer season traditionally represents the Army's peak transition timeframe as soldiers, families and Department of the Army civilians relocate between commands and installations," said Col. Chris Philbrick, director, Army Suicide Prevention Task Force. "This turbulent period often compounds the amount of stress faced by our Army and members of the Army family. Everyone needs to know that despite an increase of anxiety or pressure, help is readily available, especially during these transition periods."

"We are making every effort to maintain contact with soldiers, families and civilians and sustain the Army's efforts to provide comprehensive behavioral health resources and support," Philbrick said. "We simply cannot afford to have any member of the Army family fall through the cracks when dealing with the additional stress transition."

The Army has identified additional crisis intervention resources available to the Army community. Soldiers and families in need of crisis assistance are strongly encouraged to contact Military OneSource or the Defense Center of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury Outreach Center (DCoE). Trained consultants are available from both organizations 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

The Military OneSource toll-free number for those residing in the continental United States is 1-800-342-9647, the Military One Source Web site can be found at . Overseas personnel should refer to the Military OneSource Web site for dialing instructions for their specific location

The Defense Center for Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury (DCoE) Outreach Center can be contacted at 1-866-966-1020, and at

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). For more information see: .

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention site is, and the Suicide Prevention Resource Council site is .

Information about the Army's Comprehensive Soldier Fitness Program is located at

The Army's most current suicide prevention information is located at .

The Army's comprehensive list of Suicide Prevention Program information is located at .

Source:  DOD Announcement, verbatim

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Family of soldier who died in Iraq is still looking for answers

By Sandra Jordan of the St. Louis American

Wednesday, June 2, 2010 11:37 PM CDT

Memorial Day 2010 for John Johnson and his wife Linda Johnson was marked quietly at their Florissant home with a little barbeque shared with a few close family members and friends.

As he does most days, John Johnson thought about justice for his late daughter, Private LaVena Johnson, who was killed nearly five years ago on July 19, 2005 – just a little over a week before her 20th birthday.

She joined the U.S. Army after graduating from Hazelwood Central High School to save money to pay her way to college. She never made it back home from Balad, Iraq.

Her death was not the result of a roadside bomb or an exchange of enemy fire. The Army calls it a suicide. Her family and others working on the case call it rape and murder.

The last five years have been very hard on the entire family, which includes LaVena’s parents; her three older brothers, John, JayVince and Jermaine Johnson; and her sister, LaKesha.

LaVena Johnson told her mother by phone in 2005 that she was looking forward to coming home to celebrate Christmas with her family.

A short time later, LaVena was found dead inside a contractor’s tent in Iraq. She was battered and shot, with a broken nose, shoulder and neck. She had burns on one side of her body and an aerosol can of accelerant nearby. Blood was found in more than one location in the tent where her body was found. Based on the evidence, her family believes she was also sexually assaulted.

Based on its investigation, the Army claims she committed suicide by shooting herself in the head with her M-16 rifle.

John Johnson said no ballistics test on the rifle is reported in the mounds of redacted evidence, and the wound type and fragment damage typically caused by M-16 fire is not consistent with the much smaller size and discrete shape of her head wound. The family believes, based upon the evidence, that the weapon used to kill LaVena was a handgun made by Beretta.

Team LaVena

This is not one family’s crusade. An entire team of people are working with John Johnson and his family members to get justice for LaVena. They are relying on documents from the initial Army autopsy, evidence from a second, private autopsy performed by Dr. Michael A. Graham after the body was exhumed two years later, and their own additional research.

John Johnson has spent the last five years pouring over graphic crime scene photos, letters and redacted reports. He has spoken to elected officials, congressional leaders and journalists from all over the world about his daughter’s case.

“We had a chance to get this all cleared up when Graham did that autopsy,” John Johnson said. “But he came back and said, ‘Inconclusive.’ And once he came back and said, ‘Inconclusive,’ all the news media backed off.”

Graham is the chief medical examiner for the City of St. Louis.

John Johnson said this issue is much bigger than his daughter. He believes the Army’s response to her death is part of a cover-up of a larger, chilling systemic ill – a horrible, dirty secret about the exploitation of females in the U.S. military.

An August 2008 article published by the anti-government John Birch Society, “U.S. Military Covering Up Possible Murders of Female Service Members,” links LaVena Johnson’s death to a number of other unexplained gunshot wounds and reported suicides by female members of the military serving in Iraq, describing the pattern as “highly suspicious.”

Anger fuels John Johnson’s pursuit of justice for his daughter and the affront that, despite evidence gathered by family and supporters, the Army is sticking to its story that her death was a suicide.

The Pat Tillman comparison

“There are a lot of people now that are beginning to question why the national media won’t cover this story,” Johnson said.

“We were told if we could get it to the national media, just like Pat Tillman’s family did, it will bust open just like Pat Tillman’s case did. But it didn’t happen.”

Tillman was a former NFL player who enlisted in the U.S. Army and was killed while on active duty in Afghanistan in 2004. After an initial cover-up claiming Tillman was killed by the enemy, and relentless activism by the Tillman family, it was revealed that he was in fact killed by friendly fire.

Tillman’s father, Patrick Tillman Sr., said the Army engaged in a “deliberate, calculated, ordered (repeatedly), and disgraceful” cover-up in an attempt to disguise the facts of his prominent son’s murder.

Throughout his family’s ordeal, John Johnson never thought that race played a role in how this case has been handled – until now.

“I believe that if LaVena was a blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl, and her father was raising as much hell as I’ve raised and had the kind of proof that I had, you ain’t going to tell me that they would be treating that family like they are treating us,” John Johnson said.

He said a local TV station promised to follow the case and help them get justice for LaVena, only to have it squashed when it got to the network level.

“Once [the network] got involved, which is their parent company, they dropped us like a hot potato,” he said.

The LaVena Johnson story is not going away. Several black news media outlets around the country picked up the story after it was reported in The American two years ago.

It has received international coverage in Australia and New Zealand, and will soon get additional exposure in a new documentary slated for completion this summer. Filmmaker Joan Brooker-Marks also places Private Johnson’s death in the context of other non-combat deaths of female soldiers serving in Iraq that were reported as suicides.

John Johnson has two brothers with backgrounds, respectively, in criminal science and law enforcement. Both have repeatedly combed the evidence and pointed out discrepancies between what is seen in photos and what is reported in official military documents.

John Johnson said their analysis is being disregarded because it comes from family members.

“I think it’s ridiculous to say that because we are family we can’t see,” he said. “You’re going to hand me information, and then tell me that I can’t see? That’s insulting.”

Regardless, John Johnson is still not backing off.

“LaVena would have gotten better justice if she was killed on the streets of St. Louis than getting killed serving her country,” he said.

While Memorial Day is a day to remember those who were killed in war, John Johnson said that is a totally separate recognition from what happened to LaVena. His unwavering efforts to find out who is responsible for her death and for justice to prevail are living memorials to his daughter.

“To know that my daughter wanted to be in the military so badly – was proud of it,” Johnson said. “I know right now that she is rolling over in her grave, if that was possible, to know they are treating us like this.”

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Fort Lewis Sgt. Amy Tirador May Not Have Shot Herself in Back of the Head After All, Army Says

By Rick Anderson, Tuesday, Jun. 1 2010 @ 9:58AM

​So who killed Fort Lewis Staff Sgt. Amy Tirador in Iraq? Someone, the Army said after she was found last November shot in the back of the head, an apparent execution. No, the Army said early this year, Amy killed herself, a back-of-the-head suicide. Check that, the Army now says. They've found fingerprints on her gun that could belong to someone else who shot her in the back of the head.

Tirador's mother, Colleen Murphy of New York, says the Army Criminal Investigative Division just told her it was awaiting fingerprint and DNA tests on "additional folks who possibly touched" Tirador's 9 mm gun, according to the Albany Times Union.

Murphy had asked Army investigators last month why their investigation into her daughter's death remained open when the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology ruled in January that Tirador shot herself once behind the ear on the Camp Caldwell base.The Army responded three weeks ago that it had discovered "human matter" on Tirador's firearm, Murphy said in an interview ahead of tonight's Memorial Day ceremony, where Tirador will be honored. It then updated the information last week.

Military homicide investigations often result in conflicting - sometimes deceptive - findings. See: Fort Lewis Ranger Pat Tillman and Fort Lewis MP Jesse Buryj. As Cilla McCain - author of Murder in Baker Company - told SW for our story last year on the massacre at Camp Liberty, Iraq by a Fort Lewis sergeant, "If history's our guide, I guarantee the true picture behind [such] shootings will not surface."

--submitted by Cilla McCain