Department of Defense denies testimony on sexual assault prevention as pressure continues to mount

The blogosphere is beginning to swell with support from those who want to see changes is how the Army and the Department of Defense (DoD) handle cases of sexual assault. Dallas South first wrote about the LaVena Johnson case in mid-July, and since then an flurry of activity has taken place.

Color of Change has developed a campaign around Pfc. Johnson’s death. In a letter to their members, Color of Change writes:

  • LaVena Johnson was a 19 year old private in the Army, serving in Iraq, when she was raped, murdered, and her body was burned–by someone from her own military base. Despite overwhelming physical evidence, the Army called her death a suicide and has closed the case.
  • After two years of being denied answers and hearing explanations that made no sense, the Johnsons received a CD-ROM from someone on the inside. It contained pictures of the crime scene where LaVena died and an autopsy showing that she had suffered bruises, abrasions, a dislocated shoulder, broken teeth, and some type of sexual assault.
  • LaVena’s death is part of a disturbing pattern of cases where female soldiers have been raped and killed, and where the military has hidden the truth and labeled the deaths suicides. In virtually all cases, Congress has been slow to investigate or hold the military accountable in any way. Unfortunately, most families simply don’t have the resources, time, and psychological strength to push back.

Just last week, the Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs held an oversight hearing on sexual assault.  The senior civilian in charge of Sexual Assault Prevention was not allowed to testify per the DoD.  Col. Ann Wright of TruthDig accounts this disturbing turn of events like this:

  • Rep. John Tierney, chair of the House Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs, angrily dismissed Principal Deputy Undersecretary of Defense Michael Dominguez from the hearing when Dominguez said that he, the DoD chief of legislative affairs and the chief of public affairs, had ordered Dr. Kaye Whitley, chief of SAPRO, to refuse to honor the subpoena issued by the subcommittee for her appearance.
  • Full committee Chairman Henry Waxman called the DoD’s decision to prevent Whitley from testifying “ridiculous and indicating DoD is covering something up.” It could also place Whitley in contempt of Congress. Rep. Christopher Shays said the DoD’s decision was “foolish.”
  • One of the questions that would have been put to Whitley was why DoD had taken three years to name a 15-person civilian task force to look into allegations of sexual assault of military personnel. The panel was finally named early in 2008 but has yet to meet.
  • Congressman Chris Shays (R-CT), the ranking member of the oversight subcommittee, called for the formation of the task force in 2004 and noted that at the time the DoD kept telling him they were “days away from being fully operational.” Still, no comprehensive database for tracking sexual assault has been created and there continue to be large inconsistencies for how SARPO policies are implemented.
  • Rep. Elijah Cummings joined Rep. Waxman in speaking of cover-ups. Cummings raised the cases of military women who had been sexually assaulted before dying in “non-combat incidents.” He spoke specifically about Army Pfc. LaVena Johnson, who was found beaten and dead of a gunshot wound at Balad Air Base, Iraq, in a burning tent owned by the contractor KBR.

A few short weeks ago a Google search of LaVena Johnson netted relatively few results.  Now her story is being told all over the internet.  Take a moment to sign the petition hosted by Danielle Vyas of Modern Musing and or contact your  U.S. Congressperson or Senators (as I did) and let them know how you feel about how the Department of Defense is handling sexual assault.

Hat tip to Eddie Griffin of Eddie Griffin BASG for keeping me up on the developments.

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