May 24, 2013
U.S. Military Keeping Secrets About Female Soldiers’ ‘Suicides’?
Posted on Aug 26, 2008
Soldiers Convicted of Bribery
In June 2008 four persons plead guilty in bribery and kickback scandals concerning military contracts in Iraq. On June 11, 2008, recently retired Army National Guard Col. Levonda Joey Selph, a key person on Gen. David Petraeus’ team that was training and equipping Iraqi security forces in 2004 and 2005, pleaded guilty to bribery and conspiracy. She admitted disclosing to the owner of Lee Dynamics International confidential bidding information about a $12-million contract for building and operating U.S. military warehouses in Iraq that stored automatic weapons and other equipment. Lee Dynamics International is the same company that reportedly gave Maj. Davis a $225,000 bribe. Col. Selph helped the company owner, a former Army pay clerk, to submit “fake bid packages on behalf of six companies he controlled to create a false sense of competition,” for which she was given a trailer valued at $20,000; she eventually returned the trailer, and the contractor then gave her $4,000 in cash and paid for air fare and accommodations for a trip to Thailand in October 2005, valued at about $5,000. Selph has since agreed to pay the U.S. government $9,000 and could serve a prison sentence of up to two years (Eric Schmitt, “Guilty Plea Given in Iraq Contract Fraud,” New York Times, June 11, 2008).
After having been in military custody since July 2007, Army Maj. John Cockerham, 43, pleaded guilty last January to bribery, conspiracy and money laundering in awarding illegal contracts for supplies such as bottled water. He had received more than $9 million in bribes from at least eight defense contractor companies, and records found in his home indicated he expected to get $5.4 million more. Melissa Cockerham, Cockerham’s wife, also pleaded guilty to money laundering. Their plea bargains were kept under federal court seal until June 25, 2008, while they cooperated with investigators. Cockerham faces up to 40 years in prison, while his wife could face up to 20 years in prison (Dana Hedgpeth, “2 Plead Guilty to Army Bribery Scheme,” Washington Post, June 25, 2008).
However, the Army reportedly frequently prescribes antidepressants to soldiers with anxiety from effects of war, and one of the known side effects of some of the depressants is seizures. The Army’s fifth Mental Health Advisory Team report indicates that, according to an anonymous survey of U.S. troops taken in the fall of 2007, about 12 percent of combat troops in Iraq and 17 percent of those in Afghanistan are taking prescription antidepressants (such as Prozac and Zoloft) or sleeping pills (such as Ambien) to help them cope, with about 50 percent taking antidepressants and 50 percent taking prescription sleeping pills. In 2007, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration expanded the warning on antidepressants that the drugs may increase the risk of suicide in children and young adults ages 18 to 24, the age group most taking prescribed drugs in the Army. The Army should question whether there is a link between the increased use of the drugs by military troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and the rising suicide rate, which is now double the Army’s suicide rate in 2001.
Deception or Just Incompetence?
It’s now well known that there was deception by the U.S. military in the friendly fire death of Pat Tillman and the decision to make a heroic character out of Pvt. Jessica Lynch (oversight.house.gov/documents/20080714111050.pdf). But there are many other cases of deception and of misinformation given to families.
After much pressure from the families for more information on the deaths of their sons in 2004, the parents of Army Spc. Patrick McCaffery and 1st Lt. Andre Tyson were finally told by the Army two years after the death of their sons that they were not killed by insurgents but by Iraqi army recruits with whom they were training and patrolling (democracynow.org/2006/6/23/army_lies_to_mother_of_slain).
The parents of Spc. Jesse Buryj were initially told their son died in an accident. After relentless pressure on the Army for a copy of the autopsy, his mother read that Buryj had died of a gunshot wound. She had to request through the Freedom of Information Act a copy of the incident report, which states he was killed by friendly fire from coalition Polish troops. And later a soldier from Buryj’s unit came to her home and told her he had been killed by “one of our own troops” (democracynow.org/2006/3/15/sunshine_week_newspapers_and_broadcasters_challenge).
Karen Meredith had to request the report on the May 30, 2004, death of her son, 1st Lt. Ken Ballard, through the Freedom of Information Act. Ballard did not die in a firefight with insurgents as she was originally told (arlingtoncemetery.net/kmballard.htm). He actually died in an accident when a branch fell on a tank in which he was riding and set off an unmanned gun (mydd.com/story/2005/9/12/14492/7912).
On Sept. 9, 2005, Meredith met with an Army colonel in the Pentagon and received a letter of apology from the Army for its misinformation on her son’s death. On Sept. 27, 2005, she met with Secretary of the Army Francis Harvey and asked him to promise that soldiers’ families would promptly be told the truth about casualties.
As the Beaumont, Texas, newspaper the Enterprise stated in its June 20, 2008, editorial, “There is no excuse for the U.S. Army’s shabby treatment of Kamisha Block’s parents and others who cared for her. Her commanders knew right away that she had been killed by a fellow soldier in Iraq, who had been harassing her. It was a standard murder-suicide. Incredibly, the Army first told her parents that it was an accidental death due to friendly fire.”
A few days later, the Army changed its story and told the parents of Spc. Block that their daughter had been murdered by a shot to the chest. At the funeral home in Vidor, Texas, Block’s mother noticed her daughter had a wound to her head, not mentioned by the Army.
The families of slain soldiers deserve the truth about how they served and how they died. A professional military should handle each case with utmost care and concern. Tragically, in the past seven years, too many families have been faced with unanswered questions and a military bureaucracy that closes ranks against those who are trying to find answers.
I appeal to those in our military who know how these women died to come forward. Hopefully, the House Armed Services Military Personnel Subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Susan Davis, (202) 225-2040, will hold hearings on military suicides in the next two months and provide protection from retaliation for those willing to testify.
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