LaVena PDF handout updated

August 26, 2008 by Philip Barron · 2 Comments 

The one-page color handout on LaVena Johnson so kindly created by Kriss Avery of the Gateway Green Alliance in St. Louis has been updated to reflect the current petition to Rep. Henry Waxman and the House Oversight Committee which he chairs. The link has been updated in previously published entries mentioning the handout. The document is available for anyone who wants to help spread the word about LaVena and the effort to prompt a new investigation of her death in Iraq. Thank you!

Col. Ann Wright on military sexual abuse at PDA discussion in Denver

August 26, 2008 by Philip Barron · 2 Comments 

Sharing the city of Denver with the Democratic National Convention this week is a gathering of activists, delegates and elected leaders from across the country, sponsored by The Progressive Democrats of America and The Nation. Progressive Central – the Central Presbyterian Church at 1660 Sherman Street – has already been the site of great conversation about progressive issues, with more scheduled over the coming days. Monday saw PDA panel discussions on “Healthcare NOT Warfare”; that afternoon, the “NOT Warfare” discussion featured Ann Wright – retired United States Army colonel and retired official of the U.S. State Department; and a representative from Iraq Veterans Against the War – talking about the sexual abuse of women soldiers. As regular readers of this site know, Col. Wright has been an invaluable ally of the parents of PFC LaVena Johnson in their fight to have the case of their daughter’s death in Iraq reopened. A video of Col. Wright’s portion of the discussion is available:

Also on the “NOT Warfare” panel were Rep. Lynn Woolsey, Co-chair CPC and PDA Advisory Board member; Norman Solomon, author of Made Love, Got War: Close Encounters with America’s Warfare State; and Kathleen Snyder, Gold Star Mom.

The full schedule of Progressive Central events is available online, and the Progressive Central flyer can be downloaded.

ABC News on military sexual assaults

August 20, 2008 by Philip Barron · 1 Comment 

In a July 31 story by Z. Byron Wolf, ABC News notes the murder of pregnant Marine Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach and the wider story of sexual assault against women in the U.S. military. The news report, drawing on testimony given before he Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs – a panel of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee – is titled “Sex Assaults Against Women in Military ‘Epidemic’”:

Mary Lauterbach, the mother of murdered pregnant Marine Maria Lauterbach, told lawmakers on Capitol Hill that the military must change the way it deals with sexual assault to avoid more tragedies like her own.

“I believe Maria would be alive today if the Marine system had been different,” her mother told a panel of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which held a hearing Thursday on sexual assault and rape in the military.

There were no representatives from the Marines at the hearing, and the head of the Pentagon office tasked with responding to the problem of sexual assault in the military was ordered by her superiors not to testify despite a subpoena from the committee.

The refusal of the Department of Defense to allow subpoenaed witness Dr. Kaye Whitley, director of the Pentagon’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, has been noted by activist and retired Army Col. Ann Wright writing for Truthdig, by Christy Hardin Smith of Firedoglake, and elsewhere. More from ABC:

Lawmakers could not ask [Whitley] to address the issue of sexual assault and what steps have been taken because Deputy Defense Undersecretary Michael Dominguez had barred Whitley from testifying, despite a Congressional subpoena.

Dominguez told the lawmakers he knew everything about the program and didn’t need Whitley’s input to answer their questions.

Dominguez was given a bipartisan dressing down on this point by Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., who chairs the Oversight Committee. “I don’t know who you think elected you to defy the congress of the United States,” he said.

Rep. Chris Shays, R-Conn., the ranking member, said he will support Waxman’s pledge to hold Whitley and Dominguez in contempt. They dismissed Dominguez without taking his testimony.

As the family of PFC LaVena Johnson continues to press Congress and the Army to investigate the possibility that LaVena died in connection with a sexual assault, the refusal of the military to address these crimes against women will come in for even greater criticism.

As stated before, it should be noted that the chairman of the subcommittee

Press release from

August 19, 2008 by Philip Barron · 2 Comments 

This week, advocacy group sent out a press release regarding LaVena Johnson and the petition to Rep Henry Waxman to a number of media and activist organizations. Readers here are encouraged to copy and send the text below to such news outlets and other parties which may be interested. As of yesterday, the petition’s signature count stood at 53,134 names.


50,000 sign Petition for Hearing into LaVena Johnson’s Death
Womens’ and veterans’ groups join campaign to urge US Rep. Henry Waxman to lead Congressional investigation into potential US Army coverup of rape-murders

Oakland, CA

Post-migration site issues

August 17, 2008 by Philip Barron · Leave a Comment 

This weekend, I discovered a couple of malfunctions in the website that resulted at least indirectly from this site’s move from Blogger to WordPress. The first involved incomplete posts – about ten percent of the entries on the site were oddly truncated, cut off after the first few lines. I can only think that this was an unintended result of the recent upgrade to the latest version of WordPress and its upgrade of the site’s database. Fortunately, I had archived versions of the shortened posts and was able to restore them.

The second miscue involved non-working links to files created by me – mini-pages that list contact information for the members of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees (as on this page). Those mini-pages appeared as pop-ups when the links were clicked, but that was when the site was hosted on Blogger, where the JavaScript resided that made it possible. I have a solution in hand for this issue, however, and will apply it as soon as time allows. Note: the links have all been corrected., on LaVena

August 12, 2008 by Philip Barron · 1 Comment 

Two very different sources have weighed in this week on the LaVena Johnson story. At the website created by Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop, writer and editor Brooke Shelby Biggs has posted “DISPATCH: Justice for LaVena”:

How on earth can the Army claim any credibility about bringing justice to far-flung war zones when it can

NPR’s Tell Me More interviews LaVena’s father

August 11, 2008 by Philip Barron · 17 Comments 

The father of Pfc. LaVena Johnson, John Johnson, was interviewed last Friday by Michel Martin, host of the NPR program Tell Me More. Also on hand was activist and retired Army Colonel Ann Wright.

Soldier’s Family Challenges Army Suicide Report

Tell Me More, August 11, 2008

LaVena’s parents on US Talk Network

August 11, 2008 by Philip Barron · 1 Comment 

Coz Carson, one of the hosts of the Internet-based media station US Talk Network, recently interviewed John and Linda Johnson about their daughter, LaVena. Carson is a former program director at 1690 WVON – The Talk of Chicago, and has been a frequent contributor on CNN Newsroom and CNN Headline News. The link to the interview (WMA format) is currently posted on the US Talk Network home page, as is a song in tribute to LaVena titled “LaVena Johnson – We Got Your Back” (MP3 format).

“The Pentagon’s Shameful Record on Rape”

August 10, 2008 by Philip Barron · Leave a Comment 

In the years since the death of Pfc. LaVena Johnson in Iraq and the beginning of the effort of her family to determine whether, as suspected, LaVena died as a result of sexual assault and murder, the most appalling revelation has been the emerging record of such crimes against women in the armed forces. Helen Benedict’s award-winning article in Salon“The Private War of Women Soldiers,” the basis of her forthcoming book, The Lonely Soldier – was for many a startling introduction to the story of rising sexual assault in the US military. “Appalling” is indeed the word for the services’ lack of response – or willful disregard – toward the issue. Christy Hardin Smith, a principal blogger at Firedoglake and herself a survivor of rape, excoriates the military in her recent post, “The Pentagon’s Shameful Record on Rape.” Moved to address the issue here by LaVena’s story, she quotes statistics from Rep. Jane Harman:

…Women serving in the US military are more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire in Iraq.

The scope of the problem was brought into acute focus for me during a visit to the West Los Angeles VA Center, where I met with female veterans and their doctors. My jaw dropped when the doctors told me that 41% of female veterans seen there say they were victims of sexual assault while in the military and 29% report being raped during their military service….

Referencing the recent Truthdig article by retired Army Colonel Ann Wright, Smith remarks on the shameful and uncooperative response of the Department of Defense to the hearings on military sexual assault held by the Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs (a branch of the House Committee on Government Oversight And Reform) and notes the refusal of the DoD to allow a critical witness to testify:

The Pentagon, openly sneering at Congress, refuses to allow the person in charge of rape programs and investigations to testify before the Oversight Committee. And note that the DOD declined to testify about Ms. Jones case as well when there were hearings. Taking that job seriously, aren’t they? Someone should ask Defense Secretary Robert Gates why the Pentagon is AWOL on this issue.

Smith continues:

In the case of military personnel, a number of these go unreported because there is a perception that reporting a rape can hurt your career path — especially if the rape perpetrator is a superior officer. And only 8 percent of all military rapes that are even reported go to courts martial. 8 percent.

That is quite simply unacceptable. Especially given that rape isn’t inevitable — it is a violent crime. Men and women in the military who have been sexually assaulted — or anyone who has survived it — can put details on the table that would break your heart. But they should not have to do so.

Lavena Johnson — along with any other potential rape or assault victim — deserves to have the crimes committed against her taken seriously. Because you can be certain that while a rape or assault victim is struggling to get away from the rapist, and then struggling to lift their head above the aftermath to survive it — they are taking it very seriously. We should expect no less concern from the Pentagon on these issues. Shame on them.

“The Pentagon’s Shameful Record on Rape” is crucial reading. We are grateful to Smith for her personal courage in telling her story, and relating it to the need to push for a full and open investigation of the circumstances behind LaVena Johnson’s death.

Danielle Vyas calls for justice

August 10, 2008 by Philip Barron · 9 Comments 

Danielle Vyas, an activist and the author of, first learned of the story of LaVena Johnson via Electronic Village and immediately set about spreading the word. She submitted the story to the Care2 network of activists and added it to stumble, and digg, casting for the widest audience possible. After learning of the original petition to the two Armed Services Committees calling for a renewed investigation of LaVena’s death, Vyas decided to take similar direct action. She launched a petition of her own – her very first – based at the Care2 petition site. Addressed to both houses of Congress and President Bush, the petition calls for a re-investigation of the LaVena Johnson case and full disclosure. Below, the text of the petition appeal:

We the undersigned, urge you to reopen an investigation on the death of Ms. LaVena Johnson. Ms. Johnson, a 19 year old private stationed in Iraq died in July of 2005. Upon her death, the army declared that Ms. Johnson’s death was self inflicted.

Due to the dedicated investigation of Dr. J. Johnson, further evidence has been found from the autopsy of Ms. Johnson’s body and from the barracks where her body was found.

This evidence includes a blood trail leading toward where her body was found, signs that a perpetrator attempted to burn both the barracks and her body, signs of physical struggle in the form of two loose front teeth as well as a bruised lip which had to be reconstructed by the funeral home which attended to her body.

When Dr. J. Johnson presented this new evidence the response he received from the military is that the case is closed.

We urge you, in the name of democracy, in the name of justice, in the name of civic honor to reopen the investigation of Ms. Johnson’s death and fully disclose all findings.

Ms. Johnson was an honor roll student, who straight from high school enlisted herself voluntarily into the army. If her sacrifice is to be honored in action, her death must be thoroughly investigated and if it is found that Ms. Johnson was murdered that the perpetrator be punished to the fullest extent of the law.

Rebuilding the morale of our military, of our citizens and our country demands real answers.

We thank you, in advance, for your focused consideration and commitment to justice.

Dyas has set an original goal of 1,000 signatures for the effort, but that target was so swiftly reached that she revised the goal upwards to 3,000 names. Again, that goal has been exceeded; as of this writing, the number of signatories to the Vyas petition stands at 3,197.

The goal more than achieved, Vyas is now arranging a meeting with Rep. Shelley Berkley in which the petition will be presented. She calls for concerned citizens to sign the ColorofChange-sponsored petition to Rep. Henry Waxman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Note: A few words from Danielle Vyas herself!

I found out about the tragedy surrounding the death of Private Ms. LaVena Johnson for the first time from my good friend and fellow net activist Wayne Hicks of the Electronic Village. I was outraged at the military deeming Ms. Johnson’s death a suicide when there was so much physical evidence to the contrary. Broken teeth, bruised lips, blood trails, evidence of arson and even rape warrants an in depth investigation surrounding the loss of potential that 19 year old LaVena undeniably had to offer the world.

I, immediately, began researching deeper and came upon Philip Barron’s independent efforts toward achieving accountable justice for Ms. Johnson and noted that his successful petition had closed. Putting two and two together, with an increase of attention given to Ms. Johnson’s death and no active petition at that time decided to write and promote my first petition. I had to turn my outrage into action.

Many of us on the internet and blogging have gathered “friends” in various social networks. I decided to take advantage of my connections to both share Ms. Johnson’s case and the petition. Thanks to others who used the power of their voice, we met the first goal of 1000 signatures in a few weeks. I then increased the goal due to the great response to 3000 signatures.

Last week, we exceeded our goal of 3000 signatures and to date have 3,250 collected signatures. I instantly thought what next, how will I use the power of over 3000 people and have decided to arrange a meeting with my Representative Shelley Berkley of Nevada and hand deliver the signatures along with a small crew of local activists. When the meeting occurs we will be recording the event and will spread it virally through the internet.

Gabriel Rey- Goodlate of the organization Color of Change caught the increased buzz surrounding the Justice for LaVena Johnson campaign and started their own campaign sending out an email to their members and have gathered over 50,000 signatures.

This has been an amazing personal journey. I have learned without a doubt that we must turn our outrage into action. I am not a professional activist. I have never made a petition before and have never even met my Representative in person. If I am able to do it, anyone can.

Ms. LaVena Johnson deserves to be honored with a reinvestigation into the circumstances of her death which is the ultimate goal.

I sincerely thank Philip Barron, Wayne Hicks, Gabriel Rey- Goodlate and everyone who signed and forwarded the petition and to those who spread the campaign to their audiences.

Danielle Vyas

Next Page »