Monday, May 30, 2011

Death Anniversary

Stephen's Story

In the summer of "98" Stephen, at just 18yrs. of age, decided on his own to turn his life around and join the United States Navy. I, his mother, at his request, bought him a book to help him study for the ASVAB test as he was bound and determined to make it. He worked out every day, started to jog and studied hard every night. He took the test and passed with flying colors telling me that an instructor at the testing site told him that he did better than most of the seniors that graduated from high school. Stephen only had a GED and was thrilled that he had done so well. He graduated bootcamp and then went on to San Antonio, Tx. for his Aschool where he would be studying for Mess Specialist.

Stephen had big plans of opening up his own "Sports Bar/Restaurant" when he got out of the service. Stephen did well in Aschool and graduated at the top of his class and that is why he got first pick at where he wanted stationed. He chose Nas Oceana, Va. as it was closest to home and would make it easier to travel back and forth when he was on leave. He was home for 2 weeks before heading off to Virginia and he told everyone all of his stories about bootcamp and San Antonio and how happy he was that he joined the Navy.

On April 17th 1999 his father and I drove him to the airport where he would be headed for his first duty station at Nas Oceana, Va. This would be the last time we saw our son alive!!

Stephen called once a week at first but then started making friends and stretched it out to calling every 2 weeks. He was getting along fine, excited about going on his first cruise and had just bought himself a tv and got his cable hooked up, a Sony Playstation with a couple video games, a clock radio and a telephone so family wouldn't have to pay long distant phone bills. Stephen lived on base and had no problems of any kind that we his family were aware of. Then on May 30, 1999 I received the horrible and shocking news that Stephen was found hanging in a hotel room in Las Vegas, NV.

The LVMPD never conducted any type of investigation and the Navy stated that because his death occurred off base, while he was off duty, and had nothing to do with the Navy (I wonder how they knew this?) that the NCIS would not be conducting any type of investigation as well. Only after my constant nagging did his base command conduct a "tiny" investigation which didn't amount to anything and only went along with the reports from the LVMPD. No matter how many letters I sent, phone calls I made and numerous attempts at getting different people to help no investigation ever got done and his death remains a complete shock and mystery to our whole entire family and everyone who knew Stephen.

Two of Stephen's friends from the base came to Pa. and attended his funeral. At the cemetery, we were told by the one young man that he knew that Stephen wasn't traveling by himself or taking money out of the ATM machines by himself!! I pressured his base command to have this boy questioned after telling them what we were told at the cemetery, and a year later I get a report, or should I say an email conversation on legal paper, and the only question they asked him was, "How well did you know Stephen Killian and what was his attitude towards the Navy?"?!! They totally disregarded my concerns that this young man knew something about what happened to my son!!! I just don't understand how such a happy young man who could get along in any type of situation can suddenly just become suicidal!! Of course, It may be able to happen given certain circumstances but the point is nothing was ever proven that pointed to depression or suicidal thoughts of any kind!! It seems that my son just vanished off base without anyone knowing and took a greyhound bus from Virginia Beach to Las Vegas and ended up hanging in a hotel room.

When I received his belongings from Las Vegas the only things we got were a pair of what appearred to be neatly ironed "baggy levi's", a neatly ironed cotton button up shirt, a clean t-shirt, his wallet with no money and his Nike shoes which also looked spotless. These clothes seemed a bit "too neat and clean" for a person who was traveling by bus for 2 days plus 19hrs. The Administrator's office in Las Vegas assurred me that they do not launder the clothes before they are returned home. Also, in his jean's pocket was a phone number written on the hotel stationery without an area code so our family assumed it was either a Vegas number or a Virginia Beach number. The police assured us (yeah right) that this number didn't check out and when we called it ourselves with a Virginia Beach area code it was a cell phone number that had just been disconnected?! I called his base to ask if there was any way they could check out this number as it may be someone on base or someone who lived off base but I was told that they have no means of checking out a phone number!!! Wow.... since when can't the military, government, etc. not be able to check out a simple phone number????

I also believe that if my son was actually taking off, going AWOL whatever, that he would have definitely packed a bag and called one of his friends at home here, but he had nothing with him except the clothes on his back!!

Additionally, the funeral the funeral director told Stephen's grandfather that the ligature mark didn't course up behind his ears, as the autopsy report stated, but went horizontal around his neck. He also stated that he noted bruises to the torso of the body, another important fact left out of the autopsy report?!

I just get so frustrated that I trusted the military with my only son and thought he would be safe!! It seems that the military's only concern is keeping "their own" from getting into any trouble as they surely wouldn't want their command to look bad?! I thought that because my son was a member of the United States Navy that everything in their power would be done to investigate and prove that he either committed suicide or was murdered and that we our family would get a thorough report of the events leading up to his untimely death and a report that would tell us why and how our only son died!! But instead we got nothing, we got a report that was to say the least, inadequet and could fit into a large white letter envelope!! It is very difficult to go on when you lose a child but when you honestly don't know what happened it is just maddening!!!

I still keep in touch with the young man from the base who talked to our family at the cemetary, and although he never addresses my questions or comments I continue to write him in hopes that one day he will tell me what happened to my son..... Until then I continue to pray that God will let me find out the truth someday so my son can have the justice and dignity that he deserves and our family can have the peace of mind and closure that we deserve.

Sonya Killian
Proud Mother of Mssr Stephen J Killian, Jr. USN
7-14-80 to 5-30-99
Who Died Under Questionable Circumstances and Was Denied A Proper
and Thorough Investigation
Painfully Loved and Missed By Family and His Many Many Friends

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Family seeks answers in death of diver trainee

By Joe Gould - Staff writer
Posted : Sunday May 29, 2011 10:02:24 EDT

Elmont, N.Y. — It was the third day of Special Forces pre-scuba training and Capt. Juan E. Lightfoot was exhausted.

He gripped the edge of the pool and refused to let go. But an instructor peeled his hands from the edge of the pool and another dragged him away from the wall.

Lightfoot went limp and sank to the bottom of the 11-foot, 6-inch-deep pool. Despite efforts to revive him, Lightfoot never woke up.

Four days later, his family had him removed from life support.

The armed forces medical examiner ruled Lightfoot’s death a homicide. The medical examiner, Mark Shelly, said Lightfoot, 34, died of complications from a near-drowning. He noted that Lightfoot, who was “anxious and hyperventilating,” tried to exit the pool, “but the instructors did not allow him to do so.” When the instructor pried his hands from the wall, he “immediately sank to the bottom,” Shelly wrote, adding that Lightfoot “would have survived if he had been able to exit the pool.”

Read the entire story here.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Warner asks Army for update on Arlington National Cemetery fixes

In a letter to the secretary of the Army, Sen. Mark R. Warner said Friday that he was concerned that the Army has not implemented a list of recommendations that could improve operations at Arlington National Cemetery.

In January, a consortium of Northern Virginia technology companies issued a report finding that antiquated paper record-keeping and a lack of oversight led to the mishandling of remains at the nation’s most important military burial ground. It also found that urns had been left out on desks and file cabinets.

Read the entire story here.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Civilian Police and Non-combat Death Investigations, Part Three

Jose Guerena Killed: Arizona Cops Shoot Former Marine In Botched Pot Raid

As the SWAT team forced its way into his home, Guerena, a former Marine who served two tours of duty in Iraq, armed himself with his AR-15 rifle and told his wife and son to hide in a closet. As the officers entered, Guerena confronted them from the far end of a long, dark hallway. The police opened fire, releasing more than 70 rounds in about 7 seconds, at least 60 of which struck Guerena. He was pronounced dead a little over an hour later.

The Pima County Sheriff's Department initially claimed (PDF) Guerena fired his weapon at the SWAT team. They now acknowledge that not only did he not fire, the safety on his gun was still activated when he was killed. Guerena had no prior criminal record, and the police found nothing illegal in his home. After ushering out his wife and son, the police refused to allow paramedics to access Guerena for more than hour, leaving the young father to bleed to death, alone, in his own home.

Read the entire story here.

Editor's note:  This story closely parallels my son's death in 2001.  It establishes a pattern of behavior by civilian police.

The following article is re-printed with the permission of Marti Hiken:


How the Police Get Away With Murder

By Luke Hiken and Marti Hiken

Police officers who murder citizens in our communities are more likely than not to get off scot-free. The odds are that they will not be prosecuted at all, and if they are, they will be offered a plea bargain to misdemeanor assault or manslaughter, at worst. The reasons that police can kill at will are found in the laws themselves. 

The disparity in how police officers who kill are treated, as compared to citizens who kill, lies in the way the state deals with the two groups. A citizen who is accused or suspected of killing another citizen, is immediately arrested, held without bail, and subjected to sustained and often brutal interrogation. The threats that police make to murder suspects are the subject of books, television dramas and newspaper articles. The pressure applied by police officers to murder suspects borders on the illegal in most situations, and can even constitute the sort of torture we’ve come to expect from our lawless government. The treatment of “enemy combatants” at Guantanamo is only marginally less horrific than the treatment of prison inmates and gang members suspected of committing serious offenses. Threats to “throw the book” at a suspect, if (s)he doesn’t confess, threats to arrest and/or deport family members, threats of beatings and worse, are the every day grist of police interrogations. The justification is that suspects are “bad” people, and deserve what they get. Na├»ve principles about presumptions of innocence go out the window when the interrogation room door closes.

Within hours, if not days, of a citizen suspect’s arrest, the police will have gathered incriminating evidence, a confession, or leads to witnesses who can assure a conviction in the case. Only the most street-wise defendants will assert their right to remain silent, or speak with a lawyer in the face of the kind of bullying that goes on in these situations. Those charged with murder will not be released on bail, and only the wealthy will have access to an attorney who will have time to spend with them before their first court appearance.

Compare that situation with that of a police officer who kills a citizen. In San Francisco, the officer will first be placed on “paid administrative leave.” [See SFPD General Order 8.11, entitled “Investigations of Officer Involved Shootings and Discharges.”] The officer will then be asked to participate in an internal police investigation, where (s)he is represented by an attorney, and provided with all of the rights set forth in the “Police Officer’s Bill of Rights.” 

The trail of obfuscation begins the day of the killing when the police officer is hustled into the custody of the police and away from public scrutiny. The police officer then becomes the property of the internal police agencies and their chain of command.

Initially, there are two investigations for police officers. One is a criminal investigation, which is conducted separately by the Homicide Detail and the Office of the District Attorney (DA). The other is the Administrative Investigation conducted by the Management Control Division. Then, the Emergency Communications Division, and the immediate supervisor or platoon commander where the crime took place, take command. This agency notifies the Field Operations Bureau Headquarters (Center), who notifies at least nine more internal police agencies. Also, the DA’s and Office of Citizen Complaints are notified as well as the police Legal Division. 

The victims’ family members, their attorneys, and the media are not allowed to interview the officer; and, no public bodies have access to the officer while the police investigation is proceeding. This period of grace affords the officer the opportunity to work with his/her colleagues and attorneys to assure that no damaging version of the offense is publicized or pursued. A cynical individual might surmise that it also gives the police department an opportunity to destroy inculpatory evidence, or “turn” witnesses who might have damaging testimony or versions of what occurred.

The police officer is escorted from the crime scene to the Bureau Headquarters (department facility) where the officer will be interviewed by the Homicide Detail Inspectors. Officers shall not return to regular assignment for a minimum of 10 calendar days. “This reassignment is administrative only and in no way shall be considered punitive.” 

Within 5 business days, the Chief of Police shall convene a panel to discuss whether it is appropriate for the involved member to return to duty. There is a mandatory debriefing (per DGO 8.04, Section 1.A), where a written report is made and sent to the Police Commission and Director of the OCC. The written report “shall not be disclosed to any member of the public except by court order.” Then the Police Commission meets with the Chief of Police to review the Chief’s findings and decision. The officer is also debriefed by the Crisis Incident Response Team. 

It is both the Homicide Detail and the Management Control Division that respond immediately and conduct an investigation into every officer-involved shooting. Within 45 calendar days the Firearm Discharge Review Board shall receive the Homicide Detail Investigation report. Within 60 days, the Management Control Division findings shall be completed and submitted to the same Firearm Discharge Board, which must convene within 30 days. It then has 120 days to complete its investigation and issue its findings.

After these months of delay (and cover-up?), the police officer might be charged with an offense by the DA’s office. Picture how many murder prosecutions there would be for citizens who were provided the same protections as police officers before being arrested and interrogated. The state would never be able to charge anyone with murder if citizens were secluded and protected the way the police are.

This disparate treatment is a blatant violation of the Equal Protection Clauses of our state and federal Constitutions, and defense attorneys should challenge this outrageous contradiction at every stage of the criminal process. The reasons police get away with murder in our society, while citizens are often convicted of crimes they didn’t even commit, is simply because of the differing way the laws are written and designed. Our society doesn’t mind cops who kill, only citizens who do. 
______________________ 

Marti Hiken is the director of Progressive Avenues. She is the former Associate Director of the Institute for Public Accuracy and former chair of the National Lawyers Guild Military Law Task Force. She can be contacted at info@progressiveavenues.org, 415-702-9682. 

Luke Hiken is an attorney who has engaged in the practice of criminal, military, immigration, and appellate law.

Are Suicides Considered Less Honorable?

If military leaders want to stamp out the social stigma of psychological illnesses, it has to start with the commander-in-chief, writes vet Mike Purcell.

As Memorial Day approaches, Purcell, the father of a Navy vet who died by suicide in 2008, questions why President Obama is not writing personal condolence letters to the families of suicides. Purcell is also behind the Putting a Face on Suicide project.

As suicides rise among service men and women, and the nation comes to grips with the reality of their psychological wounds, why should they be accorded any less honor than those who have died of physical injuries, Purcell asks.

“This Memorial Day please remember those we have lost on ‘the other battlefield,’” Purcell writes.

“Their service mattered greatly, as did they. Their families deserve to be recognized with dignity and respect, in their time of profound loss.”

Read the entire story here.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Sgt. found guilty in 2008 Iraq deaths

The Associated Press
Posted : Wednesday May 25, 2011 13:41:23 EDT
 
FORT STEWART, Ga. — An Army sergeant was found guilty on Wednesday of two counts of premeditated murder in the 2008 slayings of his squad leader and another U.S. soldier at a patrol base in Iraq, but he was spared the death penalty when the military jury didn’t return a unanimous verdict.

Sgt. Joseph Bozicevich of Minneapolis now faces a sentence of life in prison, either with or without the possibility of parole. The death penalty is an option in a court-martial only when there’s a unanimous guilty verdict for premeditated murder. The 12-member jury at Fort Stewart did not report exactly how it was split when it announced its verdict.

Bozicevich, 41, admitted during the trial that he shot Staff Sgt. Darris Dawson of Pensacola, Fla., and Sgt. Wesley Durbin of Dallas at a patrol base outside Baghdad on Sept. 14, 2008, after they criticized him for making mistakes in an unforgiving war zone. But he testified that he only opened fire because the two soldiers aimed rifles at his head and threatened to kill him if he didn’t sign off on their written reports about him.

Read the entire story here.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Rule shielding military doctors from liability faces legal battle

The U.S. Supreme Court will decide in June whether to hear a case challenging a decades-old doctrine preventing military members from suing the federal government for medical negligence.
If the Feres Doctrine is reversed, experts predict that the government will face hundreds of millions of dollars -- if not billions -- worth of medical liability claims.

The family of Air Force Staff Sgt. Dean Witt sued the government in 2008, claiming that his death was the result of carelessness by military health center staff. Witt was admitted to the David Grant Medical Center at Travis Air Force Base in California for a routine appendectomy in 2003, according to court records. The suit alleges that after the surgery, he was left in the postoperative care of student nurses who failed to re-establish his airway after a laryngospasm. Hospital staff also allegedly used pediatric equipment on Witt when adult equipment was available and placed an endotracheal tube down the wrong part of his throat, the lawsuit alleges. Witt had serious brain damage from hypoxia and died in 2004 after being taken off life support.
In 2009, a trial court dismissed the family's lawsuit, ruling the court was bound by the Feres Doctrine.

Read the entire story here.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Death Anniversary

LTC Dominic Rocco Baragona, 6/14/1960 - 5/19/2003

My younger brother, LTC Rocky Baragona was killed on May 19 2003, on his way home, in Safwat Iraq, by Kuwait Gulf Link Transport.  One of their flatbed tractor trailers, driven by a driver with improper papers and a truck with missing license plates, suddenly jackknifed and landed on his Humvee, crushing him instantly. Rocky, a decorated career soldier, with a flawless military record who had been in the top 5% of his West Point Class, proudly served his country with honor as the Commander of the 19th Maintenance Battalion out of Fort Sill, Oklahoma.

Because of the irresponsible contracting practices by this DOD multibillion dollar foreign contractor, my brother was killed.

Our family received a miserable AR15-6 report eight months later: two days before Xmas. The report gave no information about the company or the driver that killed him. The accident scene photos later showed KGL’s name 20 inches high written across the front of the vehicle with other KGL trucks and 18 people at the scene that day. Some inaccuracies surrounding the crash smeared his good honor with insinuations that his death was his own fault. The officer who accompanied the report said in all of his years, he had never seen anything quite this bad. It was a dark day.

No family should ever have to do their own investigation into the death of their loved one. In shock and grief, following this report, we did just that.

Distraught and with disbelief toward the military, who appeared to now have abandoned and betrayed us, we looked for legal recourse. After 700 attempts failed to find an attorney who would consider our case, we found Steve Perles’ Law Firm, experts at plaintiff claims in international laws and Middle Eastern affairs. Their skills were the cutting stone for what appeared to be an impossible set of circumstances and we relied heavily on their skills and expertise. Mr. Perles himself taught us, in spite of our grief, how to reach out to the military, Congress, and even the White House to get results.

By 2005, with his guidance and the support of Sen. DeWine we received, 2 years later from Brig. Gen. Wright, a second, still faulty revised AR15-6 official report stating Kuwait Gulf Link Transport indeed was responsible for the death of my brother. It was a huge victory that allowed us to let go, for the moment, of a missing criminal investigation, required but never done at the time by the Army. It now appeared impossible to do a criminal investigation, as the evidence seemed all but lost. With KGL now officially in an Army report found responsible for his death we could move forward for the first time. It was our first piece of legal evidence it meant Justice for Rocky could now be found civilly in a US court of law.

Oblivious to all of this was the company that killed him. You see KGL, during this time, was enjoying and reaping the benefits of being a DOD multimillion dollar foreign contractor. Through US taxpayers they were growing from a mid size company to a major player in the contracting world. Quickly learning the contracting game, they chalked up military subcontract victories from other USG Prime Vendors like Agility, CSA, KBR.

KGL’s success in USG contracting soon lead to major changes in their business structure, I watched the forming of the KGL holding company, with 7 plus subsidiaries. It was a $30 million investment into Circle Oil, KGL Petroleum and the KGL Port Development and KGL Shipping lines with all of the money going back into the middle east. Then there was the development of the RAK area near Iran. Diamond trading, a private investment company in the Cayman Islands, the investment in the Philippines with Clark Air Force Base and on and on.

Did this get your attention? It sure started to get mine!

The US taxpayer was not getting a dime back except a trade for goods and services in the Iraq War -- KGL was getting a lot.

At the same time I watched KGL also begin launching a major campaign to court the US Military with their website, bragging of their becoming a prime vendor for the Army.

However, all this growth did nothing to help KGL’s military victims. In our case, when approached to work towards a resolution in the death of LTC Baragona, they turned a deaf ear over and over again.

At first, we simply wanted an answer to what happened on May 19 2003, but as time went on and the silent arrogance grew, we began to question, “Why didn’t this company want to communicate?” It was concerning to us, that a military contractor who had the obvious skill to win millions in US military contracts could not file an insurance claim. Or maybe they had something to hide? We asked ourselves, “Why did a potential Prime Vendor want to take these kind of risks when millions of future contracts could be at stake? Was it cultural difference, arrogance?”

It seemed stupid on their part. Maybe it was bad advice from lawyers who wanted their own financial gain? Or did this contractor really have something to hide? KGL’s silence wore on us and it raised all of our suspicions about the secret world of contracting, leading us deeper into the investigation of their business practices.

During these years, we learned through newspaper accounts that KGL truck drivers had complained of being trafficked against their will in order to deliver goods to US troops in Iraq. Some were kidnapped and other’s were arrested for smuggling grains on the black market. An ex employee spoke of insurance fraud and falsification of documents to win Army contracts, but was too afraid to do anything about it. KGL was banned in India for false recruiting scams which tricked much-needed truck drivers to deliver goods to Army bases in Iraq.

The truth began to change, and we learned all too well how quickly the US Army looked the other way when a contractor like KGL used questionable practices. There simply was no oversight. I was appalled at the acceptance of our military to do nothing about any of it. Isn’t this what we asked our soldiers to fight and die for: democracy and a free life for those persecuted? Yet we allowed our defense contractors to perform government contracts using human trafficking? It was clear that forced labor in contracting was an acceptable way of doing business. The Army’s position was to Protect and supply the troops . But at what and at whose cost did we do this?

Undeterred, we stayed focused on our case and worked towards creating communication solutions with KGL through the Kuwaiti Ambassador and their Prime Minister, using the Army and many members in Congress as our messenger.

With no response from KGL on all fronts, we felt compelled to file a wrongful death suit in the courts as our only hope for accountability.

So it began: the horrible task of going through Rocky’s last days. We had to painfully recount each moment of his dying, spending hours at researching the FARS, gathering evidence by reconstructing the accident scene, finally dividing his life into dollar values to determine a means for restitution (a system of debilitating humiliation).

All of this was done so that we could sit across a table to look into somebody’s eyes from KGL to ask “Why?” “Why the silence? And what are you/KGL willing to do since your company, your driver, killed him?“ We wondered aloud among ourselves.

Could we keep our promise to get justice for Rocky with a company who could not see how their silence looked to everyone in America, well, except the Army? …….and the big question… did this really even serve justice? A lot of doubt came over us, And still we continued

This time to the White House. Through a chance encounter, I was fortunate enough to get a moment to speak with President Bush who promised to help us fight for answers. The President assigned our case to the White House military liaison, Terry Chauncey, who we loved at first sight. He facilitated a Presidential inquiry to the DOD debarment office asking for KGL’s participation. Otherwise, they would face suspension and possible debarment. It was a good moment and we quietly celebrated.

We thought, “This is the end, it will be over soon…you cannot get much higher than the President of the United States of America. Commander in Chief…right!!!! Now, thank God. Finally some peace: we can get some real answers and hold KGL accountable.

Not so fast…

The Army sent out an official request for KGL’s response from their office.

KGL then hired an ex-debarment official, retired Gen. Bednar, of Crowell and Moring, as their counsel. He quickly went into the DOD debarment office and had off record discussions about our case. Ahhh -- the good ole boy club. Something we should have seen coming, but it seemed incredible that a retired General would defend a foreign contractor on a case from the President of the United States against an Army family. Rocky was a Commander who had served in Iraq and died for his country!

Well, believe it -- it happened

The debarment office quickly ended our relationship, except for one last off the record conversation my father had with the Army Debarment official, who told him, “ Hey Dominic, what can I do? This guy used to be my boss.” The Army official said that there was nothing more he or we could do unless we won the case.

How is that for pressure?

And how, may I ask, is it possible for KGL, a foreign contractor serving the interest of the United States, to be able to trump the debarment inquiry from the President ,Commander in Chief?

Well they did, and the debarment inquiry very quietly went on hold --indefinitely. The White House Liaison was fired and sent to Japan. We never saw another person from the White House.
We learned in that moment, that we had no idea what we were dealing with.

The game of High Stakes Poker just went up.

They showed us who was boss,

KGL continued their position of silence a lot more confidently, even ignoring service to participate in the current court proceeding by the US Federal Court’s Judge Duffy. Finally, in response to their arrogance, the Georgia Courts would agree to our argument for jurisdiction and awarded our family the default judgment of $4.9 million dollars.

Seems incredible doesn’t it?

This victory, however as we were warned, would be short-lived.

Why?

Personam Jurisdiction -- which meant the US could rule against the settlement if KGL could prove they had no business ties with the United States. (Which to us seemed impossible given the millions and millions in payments KGL had received as a government contractor from the Army and the Air Force, and KBR, Bechtel…it’s impossible to name them all..

And as you guessed it: KGL would appeal using this law “personam jurisdiction”. I call it a “get out of court free card.” gift wrapped from the FARS.

We knew we were going to lose, but we didn’t care…The battle went forward.

KGL used all means available to fight the jurisdiction with an entire team of lawyers who scheduled a Sept 11th deposition with KGL officers finally coming to America.

The silence was broken. We had waited a long time for this.

My first and only meeting with them, began with a handshake and an apology, asking me not to take any of this personally. OMG….OMG….Who says that? I was locked into a gag order by my lawyer or I would have come out with every*7%%# I could think of .

Instead I sat there seething while in the deposition…listening to their testimony about how small and helpless they were. Didn’t we know it was a war? Their limited employees lost records; there was no help to be able to find them; and on and on… I couldn’t believe this. Did they not know their website was public domain? It currently stated they had over 6,000 employees! This approach could not work in court!

Well, I was wrong.

The court date came up and KGL with their team of lawyers, swept into the courtroom to fight the personam jurisdiction On the stand their witnesses gave the impression KGL was the size of a shoe department behind the bowling alley.

It made me want to puke. The worst part was watching my father and mother’s heads sink into their laps in utter despair. They were humiliated by the experience.

Did this affect KGL?

Oh yeah. Right!

-- So much so, that each time someone got off the stand from their side, I would see the smile and knowing looks between them and the slight side high five -- like “Good Job…!!!!!”

The judge watched too. It didn’t really matter. The Judge’s hands were tied by the law. This was America, where the law actually meant something.

It seemed that although the Judge would have liked to award justice to us, this would have required a path toward new law he was unwilling or unable to take. Once awarded a $4.9 million default judgment,
Judge Duffy would be forced to overturn the decision based upon KGL’s claim of Personam Jurisdiction.
Disbelief and shock does not come close to expressing how discouraged we were by the process at that time!

Our Advice for future cases: Do not try for your day in court until the law can be changed for military families. It was too much -- like going through his death twice.

After digging out of our depression, we shook off the pain, and looked again for justice. This time we would work to influence Congress by using our personal experience to improve future legislation.
We poured our hearts and souls into learning about personam jurisdiction for foreign contractors and the fight in us really got stronger Washington saw us , monthly, as we spoke with every legislative staffer that would listen to us as we raised problem after problem we had faced. Our fight became a National Issue, moving from our own personal battle to one that could be used as a model to change military and public policy.

Our message was clear: lack of personal jurisdiction rights for military families meant that if you served your country, and were harmed or died at the hands of a foreign contractor, or a domestic contractor using a foreign subcontractor, the company never could be held accountable in a US court. They have the protection of US law and the support of the US Army. The conflict of interest was glaring. The Army could not be unbiased in an investigation of their own when it had to choose between their soldiers or their contractors.

Soon a second soldier would die in another crash with a KGL vehicle in 2008 with still more TCN’s victims’ complaints hidden in Middle East newspapers.

At the urging of our lawyers, Washington served as a second home. We found ourselves bringing brownies, the only allowed thank you, to the many Senate and Congressional staffers who listened to and learned from our first-hand experiences.

Our case moved from one of personal to one of national significance, turning into a model study of foreign contracting policy loopholes in the FARS. We showed a history of the military’s overdependence with other military contractors whenever media attention towards bad contracting gained a national spotlight in cases such as Blackwater, the electrocution of Ryan Maseth lawsuit, and the Jamie Leigh Jones rape case. On and on we complained for ourselves and all of the other victims that no one knew about.

It was during this process that the LTC Rocky Baragona Act was born.

Lunchroom conversations between staffers brought our family’s plight to the attention of Sen. Claire McCaskill, who chaired the Contracting Oversight Committee. The first inkling of legislation came to her from a West Point military staffer on her team, Stephen Hedger. Hedger shared same birthday as Rocky, June 14th Flag Day, the Army’s Birthday and he was also a West Point Graduate.. Steve called us in on one of our visits to tell us about the legislation, and we jumped at the opportunity to help move it forward.

The LTC Baragona Act we learned, in simple terms, will stop foreign contractors from evading responsibility in civil actions and require them to participate in the US court system or face debarment.

No longer could companies like KGL put military families through the emotional turmoil we had been through. A sister bill sponsored by Congressman Tim Ryan (who had attended the same high school as my brother) would soon follow. The bill was now gaining support on a bipartisan basis from both sides of the aisle with Senators Collins, Bennett, Brown and Martinez signed on.

Dominic Baragona, my father, testified at a homeland security hearing on the bill to ask for the Wild West of Contracting used by KGL to end. He pleaded to have what happened to us never happen again. It was an emotional hearing. Sen. Claire McCaskill stood up and spoke words of dismay in an open forum about how a military family would be forced to do their own investigation. It was a small moment of triumph in Rocky’s name.

The hearing was followed with a letter from Representatives Tim Ryan and Steve Driehaus to the Department of Justice with a request for a criminal investigation of KGL’s unethical business practices in both our case and that of others.

In the case of KGL’s bad practices, our family continued to dig further and found new evidence of their subsidiary company, “Combined Shipping Company”. This company is in a joint business venture with the Iranian Government in partnership with a company banned on the US treasury SDN list as a proliferator of WMD’s IRISL’s Val Fajr. We turned all of this over to DODIG with further evidence from a newspaper article showing that the company wanted to increase their presence in the port and shipping industries while IRAN was snubbing their nose at the US/Iranian Sanctions.

Our discovery helped to lay the groundwork for section 102 in the Iran’s Sanction’s Act, with the support of a consultant on our case, Andy Cochran, from the Perles Law Firm. A letter to Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, from Congressmen Brad Sherman and Ron Klein has now asked that KGL not be considered for future procurement contracts. Again, along with Congress, we have personally asked for KGL’s debarment. Currently KGL is bidding on over 2 billion in US military contracts.

The curtain is starting to be pulled back on bad contracting players. Foreign and Domestic Contractors have been blatantly abusing their immunity, hiding behind jurisdiction, with little oversight for far too long.

The danger of our US Military’s overdependence on contractors allows for minimal oversight and is a minefield for corruption on both sides.

The Baragona case vs. KGL represents most of what is wrong with foreign contracting companies who use taxpayer dollars to further a war for their own profits; putting in harm’s way all of our brave soldiers who have relied on them as their base for support.

American citizens must demand from our policy makers the courage to change these laws with clear lines on how to enforce them. Families like ours need solutions in jurisdictional laws, so companies like KGL do not go unnoticed. We applaud Sen. McCaskill and Rep. Sherman for their efforts to level the playing field between domestic and foreign contractors.

With the passage of the Iran’s Sanction Amendments and the potential for the “LTC Rocky Baragona Act” to become law, we can balance contracting performance in our favor. This will allow for due process against bad players to take place, which in turn, forces other foreign companies to realign their policies with US principles if they want to do business with us.

Our fight for justice is far from over. We went to Washington yet again for the Weekend of Remembrance, honoring all our soldiers who have paid the ultimate sacrifice. We visited Arlington to talk to Rocky and we updated him on our criminal investigation hopes.

We also visited our staffers and lobbied on behalf of the bill. All of it has been worth it.

Rocky would say “The Truth has Changed” and we would agree.

“Patriotism is not a short and frenzied outburst but tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime.” It was a model for my brother’s life.

I hope we are carrying on Rocky’s legacy by doing the same.


Pam Baragona

Monday, May 16, 2011

Unfriendly Fire


I’ve just finished reading Unfriendly Fire:  A Mother’s Memoir by Peg Mullen. 
Peg Mullen used the energy generated by her son’s death by “friendly fire” during the Vietnam War to protest war.  She marched in protest all the way up to the first Gulf War.  Peg died in 2009 at the age of 92.  She was a very Catholic lady who had friends in the clergy with the convictions to support the Anti-War Movement.  This was a consistent theme in her memoir.
Peg felt that keeping our country from engaging in wars of aggression was key to stopping the bloodshed.
Statistics published after the Vietnam War was over suggested that "more than 10,000 casualties were caused by accidents, murder, friendly fire, drug overdose and other unexplained causes, all labeled nonhostile deaths."
There was a book, “Friendly Fire”, written five years after Michael Mullen’s death which Peg Mullen found disappointing.  The family had agreed to allow Courtlandt Bryan  to write the book.  Peg felt the author placed his personal views and support for the military above the family’s narrative.  Peg explained that "(t)he passage in Friendly Fire accusing the men in the 14th Artillery of drunkenness was not our story,  It came from Colonel Norman Schwarzkopf, commanding officer of Charlie Company of the 198th Battalion."
A made-for-television movie, which the Mullens approved of, also titled “Friendly Fire”, had Carol Burnett playing Peg.
Still, the story always lacked a definitive reason for the error by which Michael was killed by shrapnel from US artillery fire.
The category, “friendly fire” is not, technically, considered non-combat death by the military.  A death caused by our own military to its members in battle is considered to be a combat death.  It’s a very strange dichotomy.
When I read books by family members, I always look for the common threads, the wisdom gained, the solutions offered. 
Peg Mullen, at a time before the Internet was invented, took the time and trouble to write letters to the families of other military men killed by “friendly fire” in the same area.  She corresponded with people, called them on the telephone and answered calls from numerous people over the years.  She and her husband traveled to meet some of the people and opened their home to people similarly affected by non-combat death.  She appeared at Congressional hearings and engaged in interviews in the media.
For all the years after her son was killed in 1970, Peg worked to try to get straight answers from the military.  She analyzed the false information given initially and followed up on tips sent by men who seemed to know what led to the accidental deaths. 
Now, families can contact one another via the Internet.  We maintain the same sort of close relationships as those formed in the 1970s and 1980s after the Vietnam War.  We get the same treatment from the military as well:  lies, obfuscation, and the willful withholding of information about how our loved ones died.
We are determined to fight for truth, although we regret that it is our very own government we are up against.
 Donna Janeczko


More errors surface at military crime lab as Senate seeks inquiry

Friday, May 13, 2011

Army Released April Suicide Data

            The Army released suicide data today for the month of April.  Among active-duty soldiers, there were 16 potential suicides:  none have been confirmed as suicide, and 16 remain under investigation.  For March 2011, the Army reported seven potential suicides among active-duty soldiers.  Since the release of that report, no cases have been confirmed as suicide, and seven cases remain under investigation.

            During April 2011, among reserve component soldiers who were not on active duty, there were nine potential suicides: none have been confirmed as suicides, and nine remain under investigation.  For March 2011, among that same group, there were twelve total suicides (three additional suicides for March were reported after the Feb. 28 cutoff date).  Of those, two were confirmed as suicide and 10 are pending determination of the manner of death.
            The Army continues to improve avenues to seek help.  "When a soldier is in a personal crisis and would like to reach out, location should not be the determining factor," said Brig. Gen. Colleen McGuire, director of the Army Health Promotion and Risk Reduction Task Force. "Now, soldiers everywhere can use the services offered through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline using a Defense Switched Network (DSN) access code, available at military installations around the world." 

            Soldiers and families in need of crisis assistance can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.  Trained consultants are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year and can be contacted by dialing 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or by visiting their website athttp://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org . 

            Army leaders can access current health promotion guidance in newly revised Army Regulation 600-63 (Health Promotion) at: http://www.army.mil/usapa/epubs/pdf/r600_63.pdf and Army Pamphlet 600-24 (Health Promotion, Risk Reduction and Suicide Prevention) at http://www.army.mil/usapa/epubs/pdf/p600_24.pdf .

            The Army's comprehensive list of Suicide Prevention Program information is located at http://www.preventsuicide.army.mil .

             Suicide prevention training resources for Army families can be accessed at http://www.armyg1.army.mil/hr/suicide/training_sub.asp?sub_cat=20 (requires Army Knowledge Online access to download materials).

            Information about Military OneSource is located at http://www.militaryonesource.comor by dialing the toll-free number 1-800-342-9647for those residing in the continental United States.  Overseas personnel should refer to the Military OneSource website for dialing instructions for their specific location.

            Information about the Army's Comprehensive Soldier Fitness Program is located at http://www.army.mil/csf/.

            The Defense Center for Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury (DCoE) Outreach Center can be contacted at 1-866-966-1020, via electronic mail at Resources@DCoEOutreach.org and at http://www.dcoe.health.mil .

            The website for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is http://www.afsp.org/, and the Suicide Prevention Resource Council site is found at http://www.sprc.org/index.asp .

            The website for the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors is http://www.TAPS.org, and they can be reached at 1-800-959-TAPS (8277).

Source:  Department of Defense Announcement, verbatim

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

PolitiFact: Doris Kearns Goodwin incorrect on combat deaths in Eisenhower's administration

By Louis Jacobson, St. Petersburg Times staff writer
In Print: Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The statement
During the Eisenhower Administration, "not a single soldier … died in combat."
Doris Kearns Goodwin, historian, on NBC's Meet the Press

The ruling

We knew that Goodwin's claim had problems when we checked the starting and ending dates of the Korean War. It was an active conflict through the signing of a truce on July 26, 1953. Since Eisenhower was inaugurated on Jan. 20, 1953, he served as commander-in-chief for the final six months of the war. His presidency ended Jan. 20, 1961.

How many casualties were there during those six months? We didn't find any official government data separated by year, but the Korean War Project has a website that offers day-by-day casualty figures. We looked at the first six months of Eisenhower's presidency and found 3,406 casualties.

Casualties, however, include noncombat deaths and nonmortal wounds, so we took casualty ratios for the entire Korean War and determined that combat deaths accounted for 24 percent of casualties. Multiplying this percentage by the number of casualties produces roughly 800 combat deaths during Eisenhower's six months in charge. (The total for the war was almost 34,000.)
The figure we came up with isn't exact, but it seems combat deaths during that period numbered in the hundreds.

Read the rest of the story here.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Crime Wire on May 10

Sgt. Patrick Rust was assigned to the 10th Mountain Division headquartered at Fort Drum in Watertown, New York. In January 2007, he returned from deployment to Afghanistan. Following a 30 day leave he was back on post. The then 24-year-old Rust was a local boy and was familiar with Watertown and the surrounding area. He didn’t have a driver’s license or vehicle.

On Wednesday, March 14, 2007, Sgt. Rust moved most of his personal effects from the barracks on base to share an apartment with a fellow soldier at 156 Sterling Street, Apartment 4, in Watertown.
The following day Patrick rode back to the apartment with his new roommate after they were released from duty at around 5 pm. At around 6:30 they left the apartment in the roommate's car  and drove to the Salmon Run Mall. While there Patrick purchased some games for his Gameboy PSP player in the Best Buy store. They then went to the food court and got something to eat at Wendy’s. At around 7:50 the pair left the mall and split up a short time later, with the roommate stopping at a tanning salon and Patrick walking back to their apartment.

The next reported sighting of Patrick was between 9 and 10 p.m. at a well-known gay and lesbian bar on Arsenal Street called Clueless. It was an establishment Patrick had never been at before and it is unknown why he went there that night. Patrick reportedly left the bar at around 1 a.m. on March 16 and disappeared. His skeletal remains were found six months later in a farmer's field about five miles outside of Watertown. How he got to that location is unknown and his manner of death is undetermined.

Joining us to discuss the latest developments in Patrick's case is forensic investigator and Crime Wire Consultant Bill Sullivan.

For the second segment, we're pleased to welcome award winning author Diane Fanning. She'll talk about her book Mommy's Little Girl, the story of the death of Caylee Anthony, and the upcoming trial of Casey Anthony.

You can hear Crime Wire Investigates beginning at 9 p.m. Eastern.

Also, please visit our Crime Wire Website.

Together we can make a difference.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Mother: 'I just wanted to know what happened'

Her son died of non-combat injuries at end of his Afghan tour

By ROBERT STANTONHOUSTON CHRONICLE

May 8, 2011, 8:04PM

Army Spc. Riley S. Spaulding had just finished his Afghanistan tour and was about to returned to Germany, then back to Texas.

But somehow — no one yet knows how — Spaulding was killed in a non-combat incident.
"I just wanted to know what happened," Micki Spaulding said of her 21-year-old son, of Sheridan, about 70 miles west of Houston. "But they couldn't tell me."

Read the entire story: http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/metropolitan/7555752.html.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Polypharmacy -- Interview

To listen to last Wednesday's broadcast of an interview with Stan and Shirley White on The Truth Has Changed radio show with Pam Baragona, click here and then on the 5/4/11 archived show under "Recent Podcasts."