a villanelle for betrayal

I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to note this piece by the incredible Col. Ann Wright. Its title skittered over military history listservs, but in question form — Is There an Army Cover-Up of Rape and Murder of Women Soldiers? — that made it appear academic, and not the rigorous prosecutorial brief that it is.

When you talk to military rape survivors, and their families, they are usually more anxious to describe not what their attacker did but what their command did or did not do. With the military mission top priority, commands often stint prosecutions (which require scarce investigative resources and the risk of losing soldiers esteemed by their peers). This was true in peacetime, when I wanted to write a book called “Twice Betrayed,” about the way victim/survivors felt about that fact. To them, the second betrayal cut longer than the first.

More brilliant journalists than I have kept on that case throughout this war; Wright’s piece is a careful reminder not to look away. To me, to whom so much is painfully familiar, it reads like a villanelle: a poem whose themes resound more and more with each echo.

I’ve reproduced below some of the villanelle-bits of Wright’s brief that highlight the double betrayal (go to the piece for the supporting facts)

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 never investigated Tina’s death as a homicide, but only as a suicide.

Rape charges against the soldier whose sperm was found on her 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.

The person identified in the 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.


The sergeant pleaded guilty to drinking in a war zone, drunken driving and consensual sodomy with an underage, incapacitated junior soldier to whom he had supplied alcohol. A military judge ruled McKinney’s death was an accident and the sergeant was sentenced to 13 months imprisonment, demotion to private, but he would not be discharged from the Army.

Peterson reportedly objected to the interrogation techniques used on prisoners 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 interrogation techniques Peterson objected to. The military says all records of those techniques have now been destroyed. … She was also sent to suicide-prevention training. On the night of September 15, 2003, Army investigators concluded she shot and killed herself with her service rifle. Family members challenge the Army’s conclusion.


Col. Wright is a heroine in my book (literally), who gave up a lifetime career when the Iraq war made contined honorable service untenable. Her editorials should be being published by the Times (or at least the Huffington Post), not relegated to the essential but marginalized Truthout.

Published by chrislombardi

Journalist, novelist, educator.

One thought on “a villanelle for betrayal

  1. Thank you for continuing to bring these chilling facts to our attention even or especially when it’s not what I wanted to wrap my brain around before breakfast!

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