By now many of you should be familiar with the case pertaining to the death of Vanessa Guillén. If not, I will not go into the horrific details but I will give you a brief summary.
On April 22, Vanessa went missing from Fort Hood in Killen, Texas. According to her family, they received little to no help from Fort Hood and understandably became increasingly frustrated and desperate to obtain some information as to the whereabouts of their beloved Vanessa. Her mother explained that before her disappearance, Vanessa confided in her that she was being sexually harassed by her superior on the base. The specialist suspected of being the harasser allegedly committed suicide when police closed in on him.
More than two months later on July 3, remains found within miles of the base were confirmed as Vanessa’s. She was killed in an armory room inside of Fort Hood Base by the same specialist suspected of harassing her. The specialist disposed of her body with the help of his girlfriend, who is currently in custody.
Since then, Vanessa’s family has continued on their quest for justice. Their demands include a congressional independent investigation of Fort Hood and for the #IAmVanessaGuillen Bill to be passed by Congress. So far, all the public has learned about this bill is that it calls for the creation of a third party entity to which members of the military can report any sexual harassment or abuse they experience.
Throughout this developing tragic story, we have come to know the family, mainly Vanessa’s mother Gloria and her two sisters. We have also come to know the attorney representing the case, Natalie Khawam.
Since early June, Khawam has appeared in countless interviews. She has held press conferences and has spoken on behalf of the family. She has also refused to work with veteran led organizations and Senators alike who have been fighting against sexual abuse in the military for years. She refuses to share details about the #IAmVanessaGuillen bill. She refuses to pass on information to the family unless people play by her rules.
So who is Natalie Khawam and what are her real intentions? Reports say that Khawam took on the case pro bono, yet questions still linger about the “maverick” lawyer, a term Univision recently used to describe her.
Natalie Khawam is the President and Founder of Whistleblower Law Firm in Florida. Here is what we know about her from a cursory Google search. On February 27, 2018, the Tampa Bay Times published an article detailing that the Florida Supreme Court “publicly reprimanded” Khawam after she acknowledged charging a client excessive fees.
According to a 2012 Business Insider article, a former employer who was involved in a lawsuit with Khawam “fought back with court documents claiming Khawam has a ‘history of abusing the litigation process.’” During a custody battle with her former husband, Khawam enlisted the help of General John Allen and General David Petraeus. They both wrote letters to the judge on her behalf. The New York Post published a piece in 2012 stating that the judge presiding over the case “gave [Khawam’s former husband] sole custody of the couple’s son after finding that Khawam, a lawyer, repeatedly lied under oath and filed bogus domestic-violence and child-abuse claims against her husband.”
Khawam’s sister, Jill Kelley, is a socialite who was involved in the scandal that led to Petraeus’ resignation. Kelley is known for throwing lavish parties at her home for military generals. Both Petraeus and Allen have denied accusations of being involved in affairs with Kelley. Kelley is also listed as the former military ambassador and diplomatic liaison to General James Mattis at United States Central Command. Now, while you may be wondering what any of this old news has to do with this case, consider how it brings to the present the very real concern over Khawam’s integrity, professionalism, character, and motivations. Her sister’s relationship with countless generals seems to be a conflict of interest.
Khawam is representing a family who is demanding that Fort Hood be investigated and that major reform take place within the armed forces. Throughout all this coverage, Khawam has been praised as a fighter for the family and members of the military all while being secretive about the #IAmVanessaGuillen bill.
On July 30, she posted on her social media pages that she would present the bill, demand Congress to pass it, lead a peaceful protest, and march from Capitol Hill to the White House for a meeting with the President. Many people have been skeptical of her true intentions but waited to see if maybe they were being too critical. The day came and went. The bill was not further elaborated on.
Before the White House meeting, Gloria delivered a powerful moving speech about her daughter Vanessa. Yet during the meeting with the President, there was little to no sense of urgency from Khawam. She did not ensure that the translator for Gloria deliver her comments in their entirety to the President or vice versa. Gloria was essentially left out of the conversation.
After the meeting, a few social media influencers and actresses led a rally where their own videos were played on a large screen as they promoted their own social media campaign for Vanessa. The attorney declared this day a win with an instagram picture where the family looks solemn but Khawam is flashing an ear to ear smile.
Khawam has not publicly connected with any veteran organizations. She did not enlist the help of Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who has been pushing for the Military Justice Improvement Act to be passed for years. In addition, Khawam will not disclose any further detail on the bill that she has been promoting.
Earlier on in this case, the family reached out to Congresswoman Sylvia Garcia (TX-29) when they were not receiving information from Fort Hood. Rep. Garcia has since been advocating for them and even she has not seen the #IAmVanessaGuillen bill.
Rep. Garcia hosted a Zoom call to discuss the recent House Armed Services Subcommittee hearing on sexual violence in the military and a separate reform package that they are working on in collaboration with Rep. Jackie Speier. This separate bill is a more comprehensive approach to combating sexual harassment within the armed forces. It not only calls for third party reporting and independent prosecutors but also “provides for money damages on any negligence on the part of the military,” how to fix reporting of missing persons, and reviewing all programs in the military responsible for the prevention of sexual harassment.
During this call, CW39 Houston asked Rep. Garcia if this reform package is similar to the #IAmVanessaGuillen bill, to which she replied, “I have not seen the bill. He [Republican Rep. Markwayne Mullin] nor the lawyer have discussed it with me. So I can’t tell you whether this is the same, similar or different. I look forward to getting a copy of the bill as soon as it is filed so we can review it.” Khawam did present the bill to Rep. Mullin of Oklahoma. Why she chose to present it to him and not Rep. Garcia, we do not know.
The Guillén family has asked to keep politics out of this and yet Khawam felt the need to include “Make America Greater” in her speech during a rally after they met with the President. Khawam herself constantly reiterates that this is apolitical in one breath while alluding to the Republican Party in another.
During a press conference outside of Fort Hood, she said “Don’t be haters” when praising the President for commenting on the case. And so one must wonder: What are her real intentions? Why will she not work with grassroots coalitions who have been fighting for years against sexual harassment and abuse within the armed forces? Why will she not provide any more details on the bill? Why does she feel the need to praise the President and inject her political preferences during her speeches about the fight for justice for Vanessa? Why the lack of transparency? Does her sister’s fame as a military socialite affect any of this?
This is a national case of utmost importance. It is no secret that members of the military suffer greatly due to a climate that fosters sexual harassment. If the #IAmVanessaGuillen bill only calls for a third party report team, then it is lacking as meaningful legislation. There are more questions than answers. One can only hope that Khawam has the family’s best interests in mind but you have to wonder when instead of aligning with grassroots organizations and veterans, she chooses to align with social media influencers and socialites.
The fight for Vanessa is a fight for members of the military. Their collaboration and their input is crucial towards creating a comprehensive bill for they are the ones who understand the failings within the armed forces better than anyone else. Meanwhile, Khawam enlists the people’s help in pushing for her bill to pass. Through her social media pages, she calls for protests across the nation to continue pushing for a bill she will not share with the people.
If she plans on continuing to request the public’s help, then she must consider being more collaborative and more forthcoming with pertinent information.
Lourdes Amezcua is a Mexican-born, Los Angeles-raised writer and artist. She graduated from UCI with a BA in English Literature, and is passionate about truth, growth, and healing. Instagram: @amezcuasiete.