I put Middle Earth Journal in hiatus in May of 2008 and moved to Newshoggers.
I temporarily reopened Middle Earth Journal when Newshoggers shut it's doors but I was invited to Participate at The Moderate Voice so Middle Earth Journal is once again in hiatus.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

The Female Pat Tillman?

A disturbing story comes to us from Beantown in the Patriot Ledger. (Hat tip to Crooks and Liars. via Memeorandum .. sadly not seeing this being picked up elsewhere yet.) Specialist Ciara Durkin was a young woman from Quincy, Mass. who enlisted in the National Guard in 2005 and was subsequently sent to Afghanistan. Her family was informed this week that she was "killed in action." A sad story, but unfortunately not all that uncommon.

This one, however, has some twists to it. (All emphasis mine.)
Ciara Durkin was home on leave last month and expressed a concern to her family in Quincy: If something happens to me in Afghanistan, don’t let it go without an investigation.

Durkin, 30, a specialist with a Massachusetts National Guard finance battalion, was found dead last week near a church at the Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan. She had been shot once in the head, the Army says.

Fiona Canavan, Durkin’s older sister, said today that when her sister was home three weeks ago, she told family members that she had come across some things that concerned her and had raised objections to others at the base.

‘‘She was in the finance unit and she said, ‘I discovered some things I don’t like and I made some enemies because of it.’ Then she said, in her light-hearted way, ‘If anything happens to me, you guys make sure it gets investigated,’’’ Canavan said. ‘‘But at the time we thought it was said more as a joke.’’

This is far too reminiscent of the beginnings of the Pat Tillman story, though at least in Tillman's case he was in (or near) an actual combat operation at the time of his death. The article goes on to say that, after being pressed for details, the military informed Durkin's family that she was "shot once in the head in a non-combat area."

The story takes a few other odd twists and turns, specifically regarding the fact that Durkin was openly gay. However, her family strenuously denies that their daughter had run into any issues with her unit over her sexual orientation.

While it's certainly not unheard of for soldiers to encounter problems if they are found out to be gay, it seems far more likely that you could make enemies if you begin uncovering more hanky panky with the vast sums of money that continue to disappear in Afghanistan and Iraq. What did Specialist Durkin find out, and who might it have implicated?

Let's remember that nothing at this point is proven. Afghanistan is a dangerous place, especially for Americans, and it's still possible that some enemy sniper could have made their way into the non-combat area in question and picked of a U.S. soldier unawares. But the details provided by her family, combined with the fact that she was in a special financial unit, certainly merit further investigation. (I would hope that accountants might have a lower death rate than Rangers, for example.)

But the big question to me is, will this be fully investigated and openly aired? The woman was, unfortunately, not nearly so much of a celebrity as Pat Tillman, so how much pressure will be brought to bear on this case? So far it looks like the family is at least getting some support.

Canavan said that the offices of Sen. John Kerry and Edward Kennedy have been tremendously supportive in the ongoing investigation. U.S. Rep. William Delahunt has also been pressing the Pentagon for answers.

Kerry sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates on Tuesday. It contained a list of questions he said were raised by Durkin’s family:

—Why had the family not gotten a response to its request for an independent autopsy?
—Why did the family not receive the results of the Army’s autopsy when it was told it would?
—Why had the Army not made Durkin’s will and other paperwork available to the family so they could plan her funeral?

Asked in a telephone interview about what the seriousness of the questions might imply, Kerry said there were ‘‘no implications.’’

‘‘There’s simply a request for a family at a moment of great loss and great anxiety to have everything possible happen to put their minds at ease,’’ he said. ‘‘There have been some unfortunate situations, as we’ve seen historically in the past few years, of false information being given, of people not sufficiently having their questions answered.’’

Her family was initially told that Durkin was killed in action on Friday. But on Monday, the family learned that she died about 6:30 p.m. of a single gunshot wound to the head in a non-combat situation.

Durkin had been assigned to a finance unit at the base since February. Her tour of duty had been scheduled to end in February.

So she was within a few months of getting out of Afghanistan. The story just continues to grow more and more sad. Durkin's case should not be swept under the carpet until the facts of her death and the investigation she was conducting can be fully investigated. We'll be keeping an eye on this one.

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