Monday, April 06, 2009

Gotta rush before the scandals!

Cindy Sheehan's latest Soapbox (her weekly internet radio program) went up Sunday. Her guests were Sara Rich (sexual assault activist, peace activist and mother of Suzanne Swift) and retired Army Col and retired State Dept diplomat Ann Wright.  Cindy's son Casey Sheehan died at age 24 in Iraq April 4, 2004.  During this show she spoke about counter-recruitment and she and her guests spoke about a number of other topics including Janis Karpinski being the fall person for Abu Ghraib.  From the broadcast, we'll note intros in case anyone doesn't know Cindy's guests and then focus on sexual assaults and traumas.
Cindy Sheehan: And you were concerned with -- in your career, being in the military and being in the diplomatic corps -- you were concerned with US foreign policy a lot but there was one thing that finally pushed you over the edge, wasn't there? 
Ann Wright: Well indeed.  It was the decision of the Bush administration to invade and occupy an oil rich Arab Muslim country that had not attacked the United States and had nothing to do with 9-11.  And that was the decision to invade and occupy Iraq.  And I ended up resigning in March of 2003 in opposition to that war and ever since then I've been working with people like yourself and Sara Rich on stopping wars and proper treatment of our veterans when they return.
Cindy Sheehan: And Ann actually is one of the hardest working people in the peace movement.  She helped me at Camp Casey every single time we went to Crawford [Texas}.  She helped coordinate the volunteers and coordinate activities and she just is very admirable.  
[. . .]
Sara Rich: Well I've always been a human rights activist -- even before she [her daughter Suzanne Swift] joined the military.  And when she joined the military she was told by the recruiter that she -- if she signed up for five years, that she wouldn't be deployed to a combat zone. 
Cindy Sheehan: Right.
Sara Rich: And basically she was sent to a combat zone.   Neither of us had any idea about military sexual assault or that there was a term called military sexual trauma -- MST -- or anything about command rape.  Suzanne was more than just harassed, she was actually raped  by her commanding officer in Iraq and we didn't understand quite what was going on but it was she was harassed by one of her commanding officers, raped by another and then harassed by another.  So it was three different men, all who had direct authority over her in a combat zone because she did see combat.  It wasn't  that she was stationed somewhere safe.  She was shot at, she was doing combat patrol.  She was the driver of a Humvee doing combat patrol in Karbala '04 - '05.  And the whole time she was there I kept thinking this isn't right, something's wrong, what can I do and then finally when she got out of Iraq I said "Now can we say something?  Can we do something?" Because she was too scared for me to say something while she was in Iraq because you know we have cases like LaVena Johnson.
Cindy: Absolutely

Sara Rich: Where, you know, women speak out and their murdered.  So she was too scared to say anything and finally she was being redeployed to Iraq for a second time and her PTSD and Military Sexual Trauma just exploded and she went AWOL instead of returning which was a huge turning point in our whole family.  She refused to go back.  She went AWOL.  We got an attorney and a psychologist and that's when we finally started coming out about the sexual assault and the rape and all of the trauma that she experienced while in Iraq because up until that point it was just too raw for her to talk about.  So she was seeing a psychologist, we had an attorney, we were trying to work with the army to get her so that she could turn herself in and get the help she needed but nobody would work with us so finally the AWOL Apprehension Team called their good buddies down here in Eugene [Oregon] at Eugene police department and they sent people to our home at ten-thirty on a Sunday night and took her in handcuffs.  You know here we have this -- by then she's  how old was she about 22 by then.  A 22-year-old who had been raped, who had Combat Trauma and they put her in handcuffs and threw her in jail.
Cindy Sheehan: She had been raped, she had been the victim of a crime actually while she was stationed in another profound crime -- a crime against humanity, an international crime, the occupation of Iraq.  Were her assaulters, were her rapists and harassers, were they hauled off in handcuffs at any time?
Sara Rich:  No.   [. . .]  They just stripped of her rank and sent her to prison.
Cindy Sheehan:  And ultimately nothing has happened to the people who raped her?
Sara Rich:  No.  No.  The one, the man who raped her, his wife ended up calling us about a year ago saying she was divorcing him.   I always called him the molester because his name is Mark Lester
Cindy Sheehan: Uh-huh
Sara Rich: And she told me that he had been hired as a police officer in Kent, Washington and so I put a blast to my friends saying, you know, call the mayor, call the police chief and by the end of the week he was fired.
Cindy Sheehan: Well at least he had a little bit of accountability but you know there was Mark Lester that raped Suzanne but actually the entire system raped Suzanne.
Sara Rich: You better believe it.
Cindy Sheehan: And this is an absolute tragedy.  I have read statistics where at least 30% of females are sexually harassed or raped in the military and of course that's probably a much higher number and we read and are still hearing about cases where female soldiers have died of dehydration in Iraq because they don't drink water because they don't want to get up to use the latrine in the middle of the night because they don't want to be raped so here Suzanne was in a war zone battling the resistance -- the Iraqi resistance -- but she also had to battle her own, her fellow soldiers -- her colleagues.  You know, to me, if this isn't a reason to not join the military, I don't know what could be the reason.  So thank you, Sara, we'll come back to you in a second.  Ann, Sara talked about the case of LaVena Johnson and I know you have worked with the family and you know about the case.  Can you tell my listeners about the case of LaVena Johnson?
Ann Wright: Sure I -- I will tell them about it.  Let me just mention though that on the statistics on sexual harassment well over 90% of the women who are in the military say that they have been sexually harassed.  Sexual assault and rape, the crimes of sexual assault and rape, that's where one-in-three soliders, service members, are saying that they have been sexually assaulted or raped while they've been in the military and these are figures, statistics, that are given by the Veterans Administration
Cindy Sheehan: So but sexual harassment -- sexual harassment is almost 100%?
Ann Wright: That's right.  That's right.  Yes, it is.  The case of LaVena Johnson, a young woman, twenty-one-years-old who had -- or pardon me, nineteen-years-old.  Nineteen-years-old who had gone to Iraq.  Within two weeks of her having been there, she ended up being found in a tent, a burning tent, she had been shot in the head and uh when her parents uh were notified of her uh death uhm they were told she was dead of a noncombat related incident.  [. . .] 104 have been killed in Iraq and 43 have been killed in what they call noncombat related incidents and of that 43, there are 15 of them that when you look at the cases you think, "Mmm, there's something really strange."  And one of them is LaVena Johnson who was found shot in a tent.  When her body came back to her home in Missouri and they had the body at the funeral home, her mom and dad touched their daughter's body.  The mother tried to rub her [LaVena's} hand and the gloves the military had put on her hands would not move and they looked at the gloves and they had been glued on.  And so they went to the morturary guy and said, "What's going on here?  We want to see why these things were glued on."  And when they cut those off they saw that her hand had been burned and indeed her whole body, one side of her body, had been burned. So how was this noncombat related incident?  Why was she burned? Well over a period of two and a half years as the family kept begging the military for information -- first to get the autoposy, then, later on, to try to find documetns about the death.  Try to get information that is held by the military but they won't give it to the families  unless you file a Freedom of Information Act on it.  Well ultimately, after two and a half years they finally got the CD that contained the photographs of her body as her body was undressed in Iraq before it was shipped back to the United States and the -- the body showed that she had been beaten in the face that her nose had been broken, that there were -- the father says that it appears that there were bite marks on her body, that one of her arms had been distended and dislocated  that there were -- that her vaginal area looked as though she had been sexually assaulted and then a caustic acid poured in her genital area.  So, um, the Johnson family has been demanding that the US military review thsi case.  That they do not believe that um, well, the military has said that she comitted suicide.  that on one killed her, that she comited suicide. With all of those injuries, she committed suicide.  So I've been assisting the family to try to get a hearing before the army to make the army reopen that case.  And we've gone to Congress to try to get Congress men and women involved in this and it's a real slow process of making the army reopen cases.  You know, the Pat Tillman case, here after three Congressional hearings on his death in Afghansitan  we now know that he was shot by friendly fire, he was shot in the head, it looks like he was assassinated and yet after three Congressional hearings, the parents of Pat Tillman don't know who among that small unit that Pat Tilman was a part of, who killed Pat Tillman and why?  So for a family like LaVena Johnson's who have no political pull, there daughter was not an NFL star, she was just one of hundreds of thousands of young men and women who decide to join the military and then terrible things happen to them.  The family is still pushing very, very hard on the military to try to get more answers on what happened to their daughter. But one thing for sure, they do not believe that she comitted suicide nor do I.  
[. . .]
Sara Rich: It's interesting when I -- when I found out about LaVena's case, it just sent absolute shivers up my spine, thinking this is what would have happened to my daughter if she had told about what was going on to her to her superior officers in Iraq.  This is what would have happened, she would have been murdered, they would have said it was a suicide.  Their birthdays are very close to each other, there a few years apart, but their birthdays are within a couple of days of each other.  And it just, it made me feel so -- so thankful for my -- that my daughter was -- you know, still with us.
Cindy Sheehan: Right.
Sara Rich: LaVena is not.  And it made me feel the Johnsons and I have a real heart connection.  They're very protective of Suzanne and I think about LaVena every day.  It's just, we have a very deep, very deep connection about that.  And when Ann and the Johnsons and I were going to Congress men and Congress women and senators, trying to talk to them about reopening LaVena's case and showing them that it was not a suicide, it was a murder, they were treated in a way that just infurated me.  I mean here they have a fallen soldier who is obviously raped and murdered and they were seeing -- taken to these little teeny rooms with junior staffers and weren't even given the respect and care that we as military parents of combat veterans should be absolutely demanding from people that say that they run our country.
Sara Rich is holding a retreat this weekend in Portland, Oregon, "It's going to be in the Applegate Valley which is in southern Oregon.  This is actually a pilot program.  We're really trying to find a way that we can take this on the road and start providing healing retreats in every state because the need is so great in women veterans, the need to connect, the need to heal and I'm one of three trauma informed therapists that's going to be helping facilitate this weekend and we're going to come together and really take care of each other and take care of our veterans because that's what needs to happen.  We're trying to offer it as low-cost as possible so that it's available and accessible for everybody and just create a place that's safe."  To get in touch with Sara Rich you can e-mail her through the Suzanne Swift website.
Today jury selection began in Paducah, Kentucky for USA v Steven D. Green.  Green's trial is set to start April 27, 2009.   Who is Steven D. Green?  Who is Abeer Qassim Hamza al-Janabi -- or rather, who was Abeer.  March 12, 2006 Abeer's parents -- Qassim Hamza Raheem and Fakhriya Taha Muhasen -- were murdered as was Abeer's five-year-old sister Hadeel Qassim Hamza.  Abeer was gang-raped during the murders.  After the murders, the gang-rape continued and then she was murdered.  Remember how LaVena Johnson had acid or lye poured on her to destroy evidence?  Abeer's attackers attempted to set her body on fire in an attempt to destroy evidence.  The crime was blamed on 'insurgents.'   As Gregg Zoroya (USA Today) reported, Justin Watt came forward (Watt was not involved in the rape, murder or conspiracy to commit the War Crimes) with some troubling things he was hearing, the 'incident' was looked into anew.  The military immediately went into major spin control as it became obvious that US soldiers were responsible.  In an attempt to 'lessen' the gang-rape and murder of Abeer, they insisted she was 26-years-old.  She wasn't.  She was fourteen-years-old but if she had been twenty-six, it wouldn't have made the events any less horrible or any less criminal. 
Friday, June 20, 2006, Steven D. Green was arrested in the US (Asheville, North Carolina) having already been discharged in May.  He was charged with murder and with rape.  Green appeared in a Kentucky federal court November 8, 2006 and entered a plea of not guilty.  Green was out of the US military, Paul Cortez, Jesse Spielman, Bryan Howard and James P. Barker were still in.  An Article 32 hearing was scheduled for August (2006) and, strangely, Robert F. Worth and Carolyn Marshall (New York Times), ahead of the Article 32 hearing, presented the defense's argument.  That was strange not only because the defense hadn't presented their argument yet but also because the defense argument was a strange one.  After the defense had made the argument, Andy Mosher (Washington Post) would quote the go-to-military law expert for the press, Eugene Fidell stating, "This is not a defense known to the law.  But this kind of evidence could come in during the court-martial, and it might be pertinent to the sentence.  They could be setting the stage to avoid a death penalty."  Wow.  So will Robert F. Worth and Carolyn Marshall ever be asked to explain how they offered the defense -- excuse me, how they made the defense argument in an alleged article of reporting?  They didn't quote the defense.  They didn't have to.  They didn't present this as an argument, they presented it as what happened.  It sure is good to know that the New York Times will work it, whore it out, when they feel the need.  This is, remember, the same paper that has REFUSED to ever print Abeer's name.  They have rendered her invisible and victimized her all over again.  But by rendering her invisible, by refusing to print her name, they have made her a non-entity and that was their point.
During the hearing, Pickands would explain, "They gathered over cards and booze to come up with a plan to rape and murder that little girl. She was young and attractive. They knew where she was because they had seen her on a previous patrol. She was close. She was vulnerable."  Though the New York Times was happy to carry propaganda for the US military and to render Abeer invisible, they weren't interested in the actual Article 32 hearing.  Which is why you'd have to go elsewhere for that coverage.  Elsa McLaren (Times of London) reported:
Special Agent Benjamin Bierce recalled how Specialist James Barker described how the couple and their youngest child were put in another room, while the teenager was kept in the living room. 
Barker said that he held the girl's hands while Sergeant Paul Cortez raped her or tried to rape her. Barker then switched positions with Cortez and attempted to rape the girl, but said he was not sure if he had done so, Special Agent Bierce told the hearing.
Some shots were fired in the other room and Private Steven Green emerged, saying "They're all dead. I just killed them." Green put down an AK-47 assault rifle and raped the girl while Cortez held her down, the hearing heard.   
Special Agent Bierce said Green then picked up the weapon and shot the girl once, paused, and shot her several more times. Kerosene from a lamp was poured over the girl and someone - it was not clear who - set her alight.    
Back then, we had to say "alleged" when speaking of the soldiers.  Alleged murder or alleged rapist or alleged co-conspirator.  We don't have to do that now with anyone except Green.  The others have all either been convicted or entered a plea of guilty.  Cortez and Barker offered confessions in court when they entered their plea.  Some found the confessions emotionally compelling.  Others of us noted the weasel words such as "kind of".  In his confession, he admited that while "Cortzed pushed her to the ground. I went towards the top of her and kind of held her hands down while Cortez proceeded to lift her dress up."  Kind of.  He kind of held her hands down.  Her parents are being shot and killed in the next room, her sister is being shot and killed in the next room, these Americans dressed in black are in her home, they are lifting up her dress and Barker wants the world to know he "kind of" held her hands.  Kind of.  Well he "kind of" took repsonsibility when he admitted to his guilt.  Kind of.
They plotted it.  They have fingered Steven D. Green as the ringleader.  They said he plotted it, he came up with the conspiracy.  Iraqis have spoken of how Green made Abeer uncomfortable (had she lived, her parents had already arranged to get her out of the area), how, at the US checkpoint he supervised, he would stop her, he would touch her face, he would intimidate her.  AFP reminded yesterday, "Cortez testified that he raped Abeer Kassem Hamza al-Janabi while Barker pinned the sobbing girl to the floor.  The men switched positions and then heard about four or five shots from a bedroom where Green had taken the girl's father, mother and six-year-old sister, Cortez said.  Green shot the girl when he was finished raping her and the soldiers set the home on fire by tossing a lighter onto a Kerosene-soaked blanket covering her naked body, the other soldiers said."  Today Brett Barrouquere (AP) reports, "Assistant U.S. Attorney Marisa Ford, who is prosecuting the case, said at least three of those soldiers as well as members of the slain girl's suriving family may be called as witnesses in the case."  Darren Wolff,  one of Green's attorneys and apparently insane, wants to ask of the prospective jury, "How can they accurately get the impression of a battelfield in Paducah?"  Yeah, it was real torture for Green -- grilling chicken breasts and downing booze after the gang-rape and murders.  And of course, "battlefield" excuses rape, right Wolff?  That's what you're saying.  And not just any rape, mind you, but the rape of a young girl.  They were better off flirting with the insanity plea.  If this is where they're headed and this is the sort of defense they intend to mount, they're just inviting outrage.  Brett Barrouquere, by the way, always included Abeer's name in his reports.  As did other AP reporters.  Gregg Zoroya at USA Today (already noted) also didn't shy from reporting the victims' names nor did Ellen Knickmeyer (Washington Post) who did one of the most intensive reports when the crimes were revealed.  Mentioning the victims names was never a problem for foreign outlets and it wasn't a real problem in the US except for one outlet, the alleged paper of record, the New York Times.

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