Welcome, Jezebel readers

June 30, 2008 by Philip Barron · 7 Comments 

An email from a reader at Jezebel alerted me to today’s post there on LaVena Johnson.

This is Private First Class LaVena Johnson of Missouri. An honors student who nonetheless didn’t quite know what she wanted to do with her life, she enlisted in the Army right out of high school in 2003 and was sent to Iraq, where she died. When the Army returned her mutilated body to her grieving parents as a suicide, her dad, Dr. John Johnson said to himself and the Army coroner, “Somebody murdered my daughter and you picked the wrong person to fuck with.” Fucking right.

Megan Carpentier draws on the recent Salon post by Kate Harding, Tracey Barnett’s article in the New Zealand Herald, and the June 3rd story at St. Louis-based KMOV-TV.

The Jezebel reader also alerted me to a change in the membership of the House Armed Services Committee. I’ve looked at the current listing for both committees and found three legislators who are no longer members – John Ensign for the Senate, James Langevin and Marty Meehan for the House. I’ll replace their listings on the contact page with current members Roger Wicker in the Senate and Niki Tsongas and Kendrick Meek in the House. (Update: Changes made! Also, the pop-up link for Carol Shea-Porter has been fixed. Please let me know if other things need to be corrected.)

Many thanks indeed to Carpentier and the Jezebel readership!

A reminder…

June 27, 2008 by Philip Barron · 7 Comments 

Even though the petition to the Armed Services Committees of the Senate and the House closed on May 24, constituents of the members of the two committees can still lend their voices to the effort to prompt a new investigation of LaVena’s death by contacting those legislators directly. Reprised below is contact information for those legislators: links to their contact pages, and pop-up links to their numbers and addresses. If any of the information provided is out of date, please reach me via the contact page, and I’ll correct it. Thanks.

Senate Armed Services Committee
Democrats
Carl Levin, Chairman (Michigan | numbers & addresses)
Claire McCaskill (Missouri | numbers & addresses)
Edward M. Kennedy (Massachusetts | numbers & addresses)
Robert C. Byrd (West Virginia | numbers & addresses)
Joseph I. Lieberman (Connecticut | numbers & addresses)
Jack Reed (Rhode Island | numbers & addresses)
Daniel K. Akaka (Hawaii | numbers & addresses)
Bill Nelson (Florida | numbers & addresses)
E. Benjamin Nelson (Nebraska | numbers & addresses)
Evan Bayh (Indiana | numbers & addresses)
Hillary Rodham Clinton (New York | numbers & addresses)
Mark L. Pryor (Arkansas | numbers & addresses)
Jim Webb (Virginia | numbers & addresses)

Republicans
John McCain, Ranking Member (Arizona | numbers & addresses)
John W. Warner (Virginia | numbers & addresses)
James M. Inhofe (Oklahoma | numbers & addresses)
Jeff Sessions (Alabama | numbers & addresses)
Susan M. Collins (Maine | numbers & addresses)
Roger F. Wicker (Mississippi | numbers & addresses)
Saxby Chambliss (Georgia | numbers & addresses)
Lindsey O. Graham (South Carolina | numbers & addresses)
Elizabeth Dole (North Carolina | numbers & addresses)
John Cornyn (Texas | numbers & addresses)
John Thune (South Dakota | numbers & addresses)
Mel Martinez (Florida | numbers & addresses)

House Armed Services Committee
Democrats
Ike Skelton, Chairman (Missouri | numbers & addresses)
Gabrielle Giffords (Arizona | numbers & addresses)
Vic Snyder (Arkansas | numbers & addresses)
Susan A. Davis (California | numbers & addresses)
Loretta Sanchez (California | numbers & addresses)
Ellen O. Tauscher (California | numbers & addresses)
Mark Udall (Colorado | numbers & addresses)
Joe Courtney (Connecticut | numbers & addresses)
Kathy Castor (Florida | numbers & addresses)
Hank Johnson (Georgia | numbers & addresses)
Jim Marshall (Georgia | numbers & addresses)
Madeleine Bordallo (Guam | numbers & addresses)
Neil Abercrombie (Hawai’i | numbers & addresses)
Brad Ellsworth (Indiana | numbers & addresses)
David Loebsack (Iowa | numbers & addresses)
Nancy Boyda (Kansas | numbers & addresses)
Elijah Cummings (Maryland | numbers & addresses)
Niki Tsongas (Massachusetts | numbers & addresses)
Gene Taylor (Mississippi | numbers & addresses)
Carol Shea-Porter (New Hampshire | numbers & addresses)
Robert E. Andrews (New Jersey | numbers & addresses)
Kirsten Gillibrand (New York | numbers & addresses)
Mike McIntyre (North Carolina | numbers & addresses)
Dan Boren (Oklahoma | numbers & addresses)
Robert A. Brady (Pennsylvania | numbers & addresses)
Patrick Murphy (Pennsylvania | numbers & addresses)
Joe Sestak (Pennsylvania | numbers & addresses)
Kendrick Meek (Florida | numbers & addresses)
John M. Spratt, Jr. (South Carolina | numbers & addresses)
Jim Cooper (Tennessee | numbers & addresses)
Solomon P. Ortiz (Texas | numbers & addresses)
Silvestre Reyes (Texas | numbers & addresses)
Rick Larsen (Washington | numbers & addresses)
Adam Smith (Washington | numbers & addresses)

Republicans
Duncan Hunter, Ranking Member (California | numbers & addresses)
W. Todd Akin (Missouri | numbers & addresses)
Terry Everett (Alabama | numbers & addresses)
Mike Rogers (Alabama | numbers & addresses)
Trent Franks (Arizona | numbers & addresses)
Ken Calvert (California | numbers & addresses)
Buck McKeon (California | numbers & addresses)
Jeff Miller (Florida | numbers & addresses)
Phil Gingrey (Georgia | numbers & addresses)
Geoff Davis (Kentucky | numbers & addresses)
Roscoe G. Bartlett (Maryland | numbers & addresses)
Candice S. Miller (Michigan | numbers & addresses)
John Kline (Minnesota | numbers & addresses)
Frank A. LoBiondo (New Jersey | numbers & addresses)
Jim Saxton (New Jersey | numbers & addresses)
John M. McHugh (New York | numbers & addresses)
Robin Hayes (North Carolina | numbers & addresses)
Walter B. Jones (North Carolina | numbers & addresses)
Michael R. Turner (Ohio | numbers & addresses)
Tom Cole (Oklahoma | numbers & addresses)
Joe Wilson (South Carolina | numbers & addresses)
K. Michael Conaway (Texas | numbers & addresses)
Mac Thornberry (Texas | numbers & addresses)
Rob Bishop (Utah | numbers & addresses)
Jo Ann Davis (Virginia | numbers & addresses)
Thelma D. Drake (Virginia | numbers & addresses)
J. Randy Forbes (Virginia | numbers & addresses)
Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Washington | numbers & addresses)

Salon Broadsheet post on LaVena

June 27, 2008 by Philip Barron · 5 Comments 

Writer Kate Harding – founder of Shapely Prose, contributor to Shakesville and Fatshionista - posts today on Salon’s Broadsheet on the tragedy surrounding the death in Iraq of PFC LaVena Johnson.

Salon has published quite a bit about how American women in the military sometimes face more danger from their fellow soldiers than from their enemies, but the stories never seem to stop. And all too often, they go largely ignored by the media, as with the case of Pfc. LaVena Johnson.

In July 2005, 19-year-old Johnson became the first female soldier from Missouri to die in Iraq. She was found with a broken nose, black eye and loose teeth, acid burns on her genitals, presumably to eliminate DNA evidence of rape, a trail of blood leading away from her tent and a bullet hole in her head. Unbelievably, that’s not the most horrifying part of the story. Here’s what is: Army investigators ruled her death a suicide.

Harding draws parallels between LaVena’s little-heard story and the widely-known similar tragedy of Cpl. Pat Tillman’s death in Afghanistan. The post also draws upon Tracey Barnett’s story on LaVena which appeared this week in the New Zealand Herald.

I can’t thank Kate enough for bringing news of LaVena Johnson to the readership of Salon. Every article, every blog post, every mention of the Johnson family’s effort to prompt a new investigation of their daughter’s death brings us that much closer to some kind of justice.

New Zealand Herald column on LaVena

June 25, 2008 by Philip Barron · Leave a Comment 

The New Zealand Herald has published an article on LaVena Johnson, written by contributing columnist Tracey Barnett who interviewed LaVena’s parents, John and Linda:

“I’m telling you there is no pain like it – there is no pain like it in this world. My daughter, the way they took her and what they did to her – it’s inhuman. I did not believe my daughter was placed among a group of predators. They treated her like an animal … ” Linda Johnson said, then added quietly: “And she was fighting for this country.”

The article looks beyond the particulars of LaVena’s death in Iraq to the wider issue of sexual assault in the military.

This is no single aberrant case. John Johnson has discovered far more stories that have matched his daughter’s than he ever wanted to know. Ten other families of “suicide” female soldiers have contacted him. The common thread among them – rape.

Meet today’s US military – sign up for the armed services and become almost one in three women who are raped or sexually assaulted by their own colleagues, according to Department of Defence statistics. Not exactly the kind of recruitment slogan that fills empty boots.

Barnett’s article is also posted at her own weblog – currently in the Recent category, and after this week to be categorized under Politics. Many thanks to the columnist for bringing LaVena’s story to the headers of the Herald.

Note: The promised video from the Black & Green panel discussion on Lavena will appear…soon! Having some issues processing it, but I’ll resolve those as quickly as possible.

At the LaVena Johnson event

June 6, 2008 by Philip Barron · Leave a Comment 

I attended Wednesday’s panel discussion on LaVena Johnson at Legacy Books & Cafe – the Black & Green Wednesday event sponsored by the Gateway Greens Alliance and the Universal African Peoples Organization – but readers would doubtless be better served by video on the event. That content is on the way; I hope to get the raw footage in a couple of days, and will format a portion to share online. Until then, some brief notes:

Forty-odd people attended, with the diversity you would expect from an intersection of the Greens and the pan-African USOP. There were also members of Veterans for Peace in attendance, including good-guy Chuc Smith who has been so helpful and diligent in his efforts on behalf of LaVena’s family.

Michael McPherson, Gulf War I vet and Executive Director of Veterans for Peace, led off the discussion with remarks on the larger issue of sexual harassment and assault in the military. He drew upon sobering statistics from such sources as “The Private War of Women Soldiers,” the Helen Benedict article published in Salon in March 2007. He stressed that the military does not exist in a vacuum – that the pathologies of the larger society are mirrored in military life. McPherson – an African-American – also spent some time talking about the problematic ways in men (and Black men in particular) approach violence, power, and relationships with women.

Redditt Hudson, Racial Justice Manager for the ACLU Eastern Division and former police officer, spoke from a personal standpoint. While his organization has not involved itself in the LaVena Johnson matter, Hudson found himself moved to assist LaVena’s father, Dr. John Johnson. He struggled at times when describing having viewed the photographs of LaVena’s body taken by the Army in its initial investigation, but his emotions lent a force to his words. His demands that legislators take action on behalf of the Johnson family were echoed by everyone in attendance.

Dr. Johnson spoke in conclusion, describing for the audience some of the difficulties he has encountered in trying to bring LaVena’s story to official attention, and also describing welcome and vital assistance from such people as activist and retired Army Colonel Ann Wright. It was Col. Wright who helped open doors in Congress for the Johnsons when they recently traveled to Washington, including direct access to Rep. Ike Skelton, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.

The session concluded with some statements and questions from people in attendance. VFP announced that the home page of their website would provide contact information for Rep. Skelton and his assistant, Kyle Wilkins, and implored everyone to contact them to request official action on LaVena’s case.

Brief personal note: It was at once both heartening and humbling to see firsthand the way in which people have been moved by LaVena Johnson. The petition to the two Armed Services Committees is a part of the effort, but only one part. There are other people and other forces at work here. Realizing that puts you in your place a little bit. It’s also a comfort.

Apologies for the day’s delay in putting this post together. I hope to provide some video from the event soon. Many, many thanks to moderator Lionel Nixon of the African Newsletter, to the Gateway Greens and the Universal African Peoples Organization, and to the good folks at Legacy Books & Cafe. As always, thanks for your attention, and your own efforts.

KMOV revisits LaVena Johnson story

June 4, 2008 by Philip Barron · 1 Comment 

St. Louis CBS affiliate KMOV-TV ran a story last night on the case of PFC LaVena Johnson. Reported by Matt Sczesny, the story features new comments by LaVena’s father, Dr. John Johnson, as he spoke at a press conference yesterday. Also mentioned is a response from a staffer for the House Armed Services Committee.

This is a good time to mention once more that the Gateway Greens Alliance and the Universal African Peoples Organization are sponsoring a panel discussion on LaVena Johnson tonight at 7 pm at Legacy Books & Cafe, 5249 Delmar (near Union) in St. Louis. Those panelists:

  • Lionel Nixon, African Newsworld newspaper [moderator]
  • Dr. John Johnson, father of LaVena Johnson
  • Redditt Hudson, American Civil Liberties Union
  • Michael McPhearson, Veterans For Peace

I’ll be in attendance, and will write it up on the blog tomorrow. If there’s accompanying video, that content might take a little longer to post.

Also: The aforementioned press conference was reported in a story by Elizabethe Holland for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Black & Green Wednesday: LaVena Johnson

June 1, 2008 by Philip Barron · Leave a Comment 


The Gateway Greens Alliance and the Universal African Peoples Organization sponsor a panel discussion on the matter of PFC LaVena Johnson. The event, free and open to the public, takes place on Wednesday, June 4, at 7 pm at Legacy Books & Cafe, 5249 Delmar (near Union) in St. Louis.

The panelists include:

  • Lionel Nixon, African Newsworld newspaper [moderator]
  • Dr. John Johnson, father of LaVena Johnson
  • Redditt Hudson, American Civil Liberties Union
  • Michael McPhearson, Veterans For Peace

More information is available at the Gateway Greens Alliance website.