LaVena Johnson (1985-2005), an American soldier, was the first female soldier from Missouri to die in the Iraq War. The Army called it suicide. Her parents say she was beat up, raped, shot in the head and then dragged to a storage tent that was set on fire to destroy the evidence.
There are at least 13 other such “suicides”.
LaVena Johnson was an honour student. She played violin. She lived in suburban St Louis, her father a doctor. By all accounts she was a happy soul. Her parents had hoped she would go to university. Instead, deeply affected by 9/11, she joined the Army, like her father and grandfather before her.
In May 2005 the Army sent her to Iraq.
On July 17th she talked to her mother by telephone. She seemed in good spirits. She talked about coming home for Christmas: “Don’t decorate the tree without me.”
On July 19th a soldier with a black book knocked on her parents’s door. He regretfully informed them of their daughter’s death. Her 20th birthday became her wake.
The Army says her boyfriend of two months sent an email from his home in Kentucky to break up with her. She printed out the emails and set them and the tent on fire. She shot herself in the head with her M-16.
Her father did not believe it. At her height (5 foot or 1.52m) an M-16 would have blown off her head.
The Army sent him its autopsy report with xeroxed black-and-white pictures. It said she had a busted lip, broken teeth, scratch marks on her neck, chemical burns to her genitals but no serious injuries apart from the gunshot.
The gunshot was on the left side of her head. LaVena Johnson was right-handed.
The pictures seemed airbrushed. Her father noticed they came from a CD-ROM. The Army said he had no right to it. He was able to get it under the Freedom of Information Act.
The CD-ROM had the original colour pictures:
- She had been struck in the face with a blunt instrument.
- Her nose was broken, her teeth knocked back.
- The upper part of her body had bruises, scratches and teeth marks.
- A flammable liquid had been poured on her back and right hand and set on fire.
- Lye was coming out of her vagina, meaning she had been raped (lye destroys DNA evidence).
- Her body had been dragged.
The tent she was found in belonged to KBR, a military contractor, a spin-off of Vice President Dick Cheney’s Halliburton.
CBS News paid for a second autopsy. Her body was taken from the grave. Parts of her tongue, vagina and anus were missing. Her neck was broken. All things the Army did not report in its autopsy.
Neither CBS nor ABC reported the story, despite spending thousands on it. Essence magazine printed a watered-down account. All three make money from Army ads. For Essence those ads are make-or-break – and are aimed at black women.
The Army says the case is closed.
Thanks to Omnipresent for suggesting this post.