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Tuesday, March 9

Group urges release of details on Piestewa's last hours

By Billy House | The Arizona Republic

WASHINGTON - The Army should release details from its investigation into Spc. Lori Piestewa's treatment and death in the hours after her capture by Iraqis nearly a year ago, the president of a national group that opposes putting women in combat said Tuesday.

The ongoing official silence regarding the treatment of Piestewa and Pfc. Jessica Lynch, who was rescued after her capture in Iraq, obscures ``the true face of women in combat,'' said Elaine Donnelly of the Center for Military Readiness.

She said the group has 20,000 signatures on a petition aimed at getting President Bush to reconsider placing women soldiers in or near combat zones.

``As painful as it is to the families, I think we need to see the true face of women in combat - and that means all of it,'' Donnelly said in an interview.

The group's effort comes at a time when women's advocates are focusing on allegations of abuse of women in uniform by male superiors or at service academies. Donnelly, of Livonia, Mich., believes those advocates also should express concern over how Piestewa and Lynch were treated in Iraq, possibly in violation of the Geneva Convention.

But retired Navy Capt. Lory Manning, who directs the Women in the Military Project at the Women's Research and Education Institute in Washington, said the Army ``could not be doing what we're doing right now in Iraq and Afghanistan without women being there.''

For instance, she said, cultural and religious considerations bar U.S. male soldiers from searching the bodies of Iraqi women.

Chris Grey, a spokesman for the Army's Criminal Investigations Command at Fort Belvoir, Va., said military investigators are continuing their ``very aggressive'' probe into what happened to Piestewa, Lynch and other killed or captured members of their 507th Army Maintenance Co. based in Fort Bliss, Texas.

He said there is no date set for release of the investigation's findings. He also would not say what information might be released, adding that ``some privacy issues'' might come into play regarding release of photographs, autopsy results and other findings.

Piestewa's mother, Percy, of Tuba City, Ariz., said she hasn't received details of the investigation into what happened to her daughter. And she said she likely would object to those details being released.

``If I as a parent haven't gotten them, why should others?'' she said.

She said she has never talked to Donnelly or anyone from the non-profit group of about 5,000 civilian, active-duty and retired military members. But she said her daughter's death should not be used by those seeking to scale back the role of women in combat.

``If my child decides that's what she wants to do, fight for her country, then she should be allowed to do it,'' Piestewa said.

The 507th was ambushed after missing a turn and traveling into the city of Nasiriyah on March 23, 2003.

Both Piestewa, a 23-year-old Hopi Indian mother of two young children, and Lynch, of Palestine, W.Va., were captured when their Humvee was hit during the ambush by a rocket-propelled grenade and crashed into another truck.

The Pentagon, acting on a 1991 law allowing greater roles for women, loosened restrictions on women's military service in 1994. Women cannot serve in front-line infantry. But they can become combat pilots or serve in supply convoys and troop transports, which have become targets of attack in Iraq.