On July 19, 2005, 19-year-old Private First Class LaVena Johnson died near Balad, Iraq. The Army shipped her body back to St. Louis, Missouri, and told her family that she died of “self-inflicted, non-combat injuries.” In short, suicide.
Already a sad story, but it gets worse: When her father saw his daughter’s body at the funeral home, he knew something was wrong. Turns out, LaVena had been raped, beaten and partially burned.
Her face was bruised, her lip busted so bad it had to be reconstructed for the funeral. White gloves had been glued to her hands, hiding burns. There was a gunshot wound on the left side of her head (LaVena was right handed) that appeared to be from a pistol rather than an M-16 round from her own gun, as the Army had reported.
Dr. Johnson’s suspicions led him and his family to ask the military to reopen an investigation into LaVena’s death. After two years of relentlessly tracking down details, Dr. Johnson discovered that there was a CD of photos from the tent where his daughter had been found. With help from his local Congressman, he finally got the Army to send the disc to Missouri. What he saw was disturbing: The pictures showed that her teeth had been knocked in, her nose had been broken and she had bite marks and scratches on her skin. Her right side had been doused in an accelerator and lit on fire and her genitals were bruised and cut, and had been cleaned with a corrosive fluid. She had been redressed and dragged into the tent, which was then set on fire. The tent was on her base, indicating that she had been attacked by someone in the U.S. Armed Forces.
Yet, the military has refused to investigate her death as a homicide, and requests of Congress to hold a hearing have so far gone unheeded.
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