May 24, 2013
U.S. Military Keeping Secrets About Female Soldiers’ ‘Suicides’?
Posted on Aug 26, 2008
Murder of Three Women in North Carolina
Some of the circumstances surrounding Lavena Johnson’s death in Iraq three years ago are similar to those of other American servicewomen who died in recent months. In the six months from December 2007 to July 2008, three U.S. military women were killed by military males near the Army’s Fort Bragg and the Marine Corps’ Camp Lejeune, two mega-bases in North Carolina.
Two of the women were in the Army. Spc. Megan Touma was seven months pregnant when her body was found inside a Fayetteville hotel room June 21, 2008. A married male soldier whom she knew in Germany has since been arrested. The estranged Marine husband of Army 2nd Lt. Holley Wimunc has been arrested in her death and the burning of her body.
Marine Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach had been raped in May 2007 and protective orders had been issued against the alleged perpetrator, fellow Marine Cpl. Cesar Laurean. The burned body of Lauterbach and her unborn baby were found in a shallow grave in the backyard of Laurean’s home in January 2008. Laurean fled to Mexico, where he was captured by Mexican authorities. He is currently awaiting extradition to the United States to stand trial. Lauterbach’s mother testified before Congress on July 31, 2008, that the Marine Corps ignored warning signs that Laurean was a danger to her daughter (testimony of Mary Lauterbach to the National Security and Foreign Affairs Subcommittee of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, nationalsecurity.oversight.house.gov/documents/20080731134039.pdf).
Two Women Sexually Assaulted Before Their Deaths
Remarkably, a rape test was not performed on the body of Lavena Johnson although bruising and lacerations in her genital area indicated assault.
Another family that does not believe their daughter committed suicide in Iraq is the family of Pfc. Tina Priest, 20, of Smithville, Texas, who was reported raped by a fellow soldier in February of 2006 on a military base known as Camp Taji. Priest was a part of the 5th Support Battalion, lst Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division from Fort Hood, Texas. The Army said Priest was found dead in her room on March 1, 2006, of a self-inflicted M-16 shot, 11 days after the rape. Priest’s mother, Joy Priest, disputes the Army’s findings.
Mrs. Priest said she talked several times with her daughter after the rape and that Tina, while very upset about the rape, was not suicidal. Mrs. Priest continues to challenge the Army’s 800 pages of investigative documents with a simple question: How could her five-foot-tall daughter, with a correspondingly short arm length, have held the M-16 at the angle which would have resulted in the gunshot? The Army attempted several explanations, but each was debunked by Mrs. Priest and by the 800 pages of materials provided by the Army itself. The Army now says Tina used her toe to pull the trigger of the weapon that killed her. The Army reportedly never investigated Tina’s death as a homicide, only as a suicide.
According to Tina’s mother, rape charges against the soldier whose sperm was found on Tina’s sleeping bag were dropped a few weeks after her death. He was convicted of failure to obey an order and sentenced to forfeiture of $714 for two months, 30 days’ restriction to the base and 45 days of extra duty.
On May 11, 2006, 10 days after Tina Priest was found dead, 19-year-old Army Pfc. Amy Duerksen was found dead at the same Camp Taji. Duerksen died three days after she suffered what the Army called “a self-inflicted gunshot.” The Army claimed that she, too, had committed suicide. In the room where her body was found, investigators reportedly discovered her diary open to a page on which she had written about being raped during training after unknowingly ingesting a date-rape drug. The person Duerkson identified in her diary as the rapist was charged by the Army with rape after her death. Many who knew her did not believe she shot herself, but there is no evidence of a homicide investigation by the Army.
Three women whose deaths have been classified as suicides had expressed concerns about improprieties or irregularities in their military commands.
Army Spc. Ciara Durkin, 30, a Massachusetts National Guard payroll clerk, was found dead on Sept. 28, 2007, from a gunshot wound to the head. She had gotten off work 90 minutes earlier and was found lying near a chapel on Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. Durkin had called her brother just hours before she died, leaving an upbeat happy birthday message on his telephone. In previous conversations, Durkin told her sister that she had discovered something in the finance unit that she did not agree with and that she had made some enemies over it. She told her sister to keep investigating her death if anything happened to her (“How did Specialist Ciara Durkin Die?” CBSNews, Oct. 4, 2007, cbsnews.com/stories/2007/10/04/world/main3328739.shtml). In June 2008, the Army declared her death a suicide.
Army interrogator Spc. Alyssa Renee Peterson, 27, assigned to C Company, 311th Military Intelligence Battalion, 101st Airborne Division, Fort Campbell, Ky., was an Arabic linguist who reportedly was very concerned about the manner in which interrogations of detained Iraqis were being conducted. She died on Sept. 15, 2003, near Tal Afar, Iraq, in what the Army described as a gunshot wound to the head, a noncombat, self-inflicted weapons discharge, or suicide. Peterson had reportedly objected to the interrogation techniques used on prisoners in Iraq and refused to participate after only two nights working in the unit known as “the cage.” Members of her unit have refused to describe the specific interrogation techniques to which Peterson objected. The military says that all records of those techniques have now been destroyed. After refusing to conduct more interrogations, Peterson was assigned to guard the base gate, where she monitored Iraqi guards. She was also sent to suicide prevention training. Army investigators concluded she shot and killed herself with her service rifle on the night of Sept. 15, 2003. Family members challenge the Army’s conclusion.
Maj. Gloria Davis, 47, an 18-year Army veteran, mother and grandmother, was found dead of a gunshot wound on Dec. 12, 2006, the day after she reportedly talked at length to an Army investigator about corruption in military contracting. She had been accused of accepting a $225,000 bribe from Lee Dynamics, a defense contractor that provided warehouse space for the storage of automatic weapons in Iraq (Eric Schmitt and James Glanz, “U.S. Says Company Bribes Officers for Work in Iraq,” New York Times, Aug. 31, 2007).
Davis’ mother, Annie Washington, told the author that military investigators have never located any of the $225,000 Davis is alleged to have taken. Washington said her daughter was right-handed and would have had a hard time holding the weapon in her left hand and shooting herself on the left side of her head (telephone conversation between Ann Wright and Annie Washington, July 2008).
Federal court documents show that the Army suspended Lee Dynamics from contracting on July 9, 2007, over allegations that the company paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to numerous U.S. officers in Iraq and Kuwait in 2004 and 2005 to get contracts to build, operate and maintain warehouses in Iraq where weapons, uniforms and vehicles for the Iraqi military were stored.
Reportedly included in the documents was a seven-page statement by an Army investigator who questioned Maj. Davis the day before she was found dead in her quarters. The deposition has apparently been used in ongoing federal cases on corruption in military contracting (Ed Blanche, “Kickbacks, Weapons and Suicide: The US Army’s Battle With Corruption,” March 15, 2008, kippreport.com/article.php?articleid=1056&page=1). The author attempted to obtain a copy of Davis’ statement from the Department of Justice, but a DoJ public affairs officer said the statement is not yet in the public domain and intimated that it is being used in other ongoing DoJ investigations into contracting fraud (telephone conversation on July 28, 2008, with DoJ public affairs officer).
The Lee Dynamics warehouses were part of a circle of corruption involving military personnel and contractors throughout Iraq and the disappearance of 190,000 U.S.-supplied weapons— 110,000 AK-47 assault rifles and 80,000 pistols intended for Iraqi security forces for which the U.S. military cannot account. A July 2007 Government Accountability Office report said that until December 2005 the U.S.-Iraqi training command had no centralized records on weapons provided to Iraqi forces, and although 185,000 AK-47 rifles, 170,000 pistols, 215,000 sets of body armor and 140,000 steel helmets had been issued by September 2005, because of poor record keeping it was unclear what happened to 110,000 AK-47s and 80,000 pistols and more than half the armor and helmets (GAO Report 07-711, Stabilizing Iraq: DOD Cannot Ensure That U.S.-Funded Equipment Has Reached Iraqi Security Forces, July 2007, Pages 14 and 15, gao.gov/new.items/d07711.pdf).
In December 2007, the U.S. military acknowledged that it had lost track of an additional 12,000 weapons, including more than 800 machine guns (Ed Blanche, “Kickbacks, Weapons and Suicide: The US Army’s Battle With Corruption,” March 15, 2008, kippreport.com/article.php?articleid=1056&page=1).
In 2005, Col. Ted Westhusing, 44, at the time the highest-ranking officer to die in Iraq, allegedly committed suicide after reportedly becoming despondent about the poor performance of private contractors who were training Iraqi police, for which he was responsible. After graduating third in his West Point class and serving as the honor captain for the entire academy his senior year, Westhusing became one of the Army’s leading scholars on military ethics and was a professor at West Point.
In January 2005 Westhusing began supervising the training of Iraqi forces to take over security duties from the U.S. military. He oversaw the Virginia-based USIS, a private security contractor, which had contracts worth $79 million to train a corps of Iraqi police to conduct special-operations missions. Westhusing was upset about allegations, in a four-page anonymous letter, that USIS deliberately shorted the Iraqi government on the number of trainers it provided in order to increase its profit margin. The letter also revealed two incidents in which USIS contractors allegedly had witnessed or participated in the killing of Iraqi civilians. After an angry counseling meeting with the contractor, Westhusing was found dead of a gunshot wound. Many of Westhusing’s professional colleagues question the Army’s ruling of suicide, despite the note found in his quarters. They point out that Westhusing did not have a bodyguard and was surrounded by the same contractors he suspected of wrongdoing. They also question why the USIS company manager who discovered Westhusing’s body was not tested for gunpowder residue.
In the space of three months in 2006, three members of the U.S. Army who had been part of a contracting and logistics group in Kuwait and Iraq were accused of taking bribes from contractors and allegedly committed suicide. Two of them were women, Maj. Gloria Davis and Sgt. Denise Lannaman, and the third was Lt. Col. Marshall Gutierrez. In August 2006 Gutierrez was arrested at a restaurant in Kuwait and was accused of shaking down a laundry contractor for a $3,400 bribe. He was allowed to return to his quarters and was found dead on Sept. 4, 2006, with an empty bottle of prescription sleeping pills and an open container of what appeared to be antifreeze.
The second woman soldier who was allegedly involved with bribes and allegedly committed suicide was New York Army National Guard Sgt. Denise A. Lannaman. Lannaman, 46, had completed one tour in Tikrit, Iraq, in 2005. In December 2005 she decided to volunteer to stay in Iraq longer and took an assignment at a desk job at a procurement office in Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, that purchased millions of dollars in supplies. She received excellent performance ratings, and her supervisor said that her oversight eliminated misuse of funds by 36 percent. On Oct. 1, 2006, Lannaman was questioned by a senior officer about the death of Lt. Col. Gutierrez and was reportedly told by that officer that she was implicated in the contracting fraud and would be leaving the military in disgrace. She was found in a jeep dead of a gunshot later that day.
The Army has classified Lannaman’s death as a suicide. A member of her family said that Lannaman had a history of psychiatric problems but somehow been allowed to enlist in the military. She had attempted suicide four times in her life, according to the family member. In September 2007, Army spokesman Lt. Col. William Wiggins told the family that Lannaman had not been the subject of any contract investigations, but he said he could not say whether Lannaman had been threatened by a superior officer with dismissal from the service (Jim Dwyer, “Letter from America: Journey from New York to Kuwait, and Suicide,” New York Times, Sept. 19, 2007). Lannaman’s family said that because of her pre-existing mental state, the threat that the superior officer made to send her home in disgrace could have caused her to take her life.
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