Politrix: Animal Farm

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.

But LaVena Johnson isn’t the only one. As I’ve discussed here before, nearly one-third of female military veterans report having been raped or nearly raped while serving their country. As of press time, the U.S. military reports that 100 servicewomen have died in Iraq; five of them were declared “suicides,” a ruling that several families are disputing.

But the most distressing part of this story, perhaps, is that it isn’t at all surprising. When you have a team of hired guns whose main function is to maintain “order” by force, it’s only natural that certain members will go rouge—especially when said team is lead by politicians (cough) who think ignoring the Geneva Conventions in favor of waterboarding is A-OK. Yes, it’s true, absolute power corrupts absolutely.

It’s hard to feel hopeful in the face of blatant impropriety, but I’ll ask you to anyway: Please sign the petition that is being circulated to force Congressman Waxman, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform to investigate LaVena’s murder. It won’t bring her back, but it’s a step in the right direction.


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