LaVena Johnson was a 19 year old private in the Army, serving in Iraq, when she was raped, murdered, and her body was burned--by someone from her own military base. Despite overwhelming physical evidence, the Army called her death a suicide and has closed the case.1
For three years, LaVena's parents have been fighting for answers. At almost every turn, they've been met with closed doors or lies. They've appealed to Congress, the one body that can hold the military accountable. But, as in other cases where female soldiers have been raped and murdered and the Army has called it suicide, Congress has failed to act.
Will you join Mr. and Mrs. Johnson in calling on Congressman Henry Waxman, Chairman of the House Government Oversight Committee, to mount a real investigation into LaVena Johnson's death and the Army's cover-up2? Will you ask your friends and family to do the same?
From the beginning, LaVena's death made no sense as a suicide. She was happy and had been talking with friends and family regularly3--nothing indicated she could be suicidal. And when the Johnsons received her body, they noticed signs that she had been beaten.4 That was when they started asking questions.
After two years of being denied answers and hearing explanations that made no sense, the Johnsons received a CD-ROM from someone on the inside. It contained pictures of the crime scene where LaVena died and an autopsy showing that she had suffered bruises, abrasions, a dislocated shoulder, broken teeth, and some type of sexual assault. Her body was partially burned; she had been doused in a flammable liquid, and someone had set her body on fire. A corrosive chemical had been poured in her genital area, perhaps to cover up evidence of rape.5
Still the Army sticks by their story. They refuse to explain the overwhelming physical evidence that LaVena was raped and murdered and continue to claim that she killed herself.
For many Black youth, and working class young people of every race, the military is seen as an option for securing a better future. LaVena came from a deeply supportive family, and while the military wasn't her only option, she was attracted by its promise to help her pay for a college education and the opportunity to travel around the world. She also thought that by joining she could continue her lifelong commitment to serving other people in need. She made a decision to serve in the military, with all its risks, and expected respect and dignity in return.
LaVena's death is part of a disturbing pattern of cases where female soldiers have been raped and killed, and where the military has hidden the truth and labeled the deaths suicides.6,7 In virtually all cases, Congress has been slow to investigate or hold the military accountable in any way. Unfortunately, most families simply don't have the resources, time, and psychological strength to push back.
We can help the Johnsons, and other families, by holding Congress accountable in the LaVena Johnson case and by demanding it investigate the pattern of cover-ups by the military.
Please take a moment to join those calling on Congressman Waxman to investigate the cover-up of LaVena Johnson's death:
Thanks and Peace,
-- James, Gabriel, Clarissa, Andre, Kai, and the rest of the ColorOfChange.org team
July 28th, 2008
1. "The cover-up of a soldier's death?" LavenaJohnson.com, March 6, 2007
2. "Is There an Army Cover Up of Rape and Murder of Women Soldiers?" CommonDreams.org, April 28, 2008
5. "Suicide or Murder? Three Years After the Death of Pfc. LaVena Johnson in Iraq, Her Parents Continue Their Call for a Congressional Investigation," Democracy Now!, June 23, 2008.
6. See reference 2.
7. "2 Years After Soldier's Death, Family's Battle Is With Army," New York Times, March 21, 2006.
"Justice for Pfc. LaVena Johnson," DailyKos, June 30, 2008
"Rapists in the Ranks, Los Angeles Times, March 31, 2008