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Caution: Graphic autopsy photographs.“The Silent Truth” tells the story of nineteen year-old U.S. Army Private LaVena Johnson, who was found dead on a U.S. military base in Balad, Iraq in July, 2005. The United States Army ruled her death as a suicide resulting from a self-inflicted M-16 rifle shot wound.

(Cross-posted at Occupy America)

Pfc. LaVena Johnson would have turned 28 years old on July 27th. But, she died in Iraq just days before her 20th birthday on July 19th, 2005. She had only been there for eight weeks.

Army investigators ruled that LaVena committed suicide by firing her M-16 automatic rifle into her mouth. Her body was found beside the rifle in a contractor's storage tent on a U.S. military base in Balad, Iraq, on July 19, 2005.

The Army’s account of what happened to LaVena was riddled with contradictions, from the alleged self-inflicted wound to where the body was found. Every piece of information uncovered was a painful and laborious act because of the Army’s refusal to cooperate.

There was no suicide note, no recovered bullet and no significant gunshot residue on her hands. But the Army cited fellow soldiers' reports that she was depressed and had spoken of killing herself.

Johnson's father maintains that his daughter was raped and killed, and that her death scene was staged to make it appear as if she shot herself. He accuses the Army of covering up for a killer or killers to conceal a soldier-on-soldier slaying, explaining that military personnel would have had unrestricted access to the area where his daughter died and therefore would not have attracted undue attention.

The autopsy report and photographs revealed Johnson had a broken nose, black eye, loose teeth, burns from a corrosive chemical on her genitals, a trail of blood leading away from her tent, and a gunshot wound that seemed inconsistent with suicide. Several reporters have suspected that the chemical burns were to destroy DNA evidence of a rape.

I believe that someday the truth about LaVena’s death will come out. If not from the military, then from someone who saw something, and finally decides to do the right thing by speaking up. But this is not just LaVena's family’s burden. As taxpayers, our dollars support the military whether we like it or not. We, too, have a duty to hold our government and its military accountable for what it does to human beings, whether they are U.S. citizens or the citizens of other countries.

Military leaders have promised in recent months that they are taking sexual assault seriously and doing everything they can to combat it. But haven't they been saying the same thing for two decades?

Wouldn't the best way to start taking sexual assault seriously be to finally bring justice to LaVena Johnson and her family and bring the truth about her death to light? I can't think of a more powerful act to signal real change taking place for women in combat than ending this unspoken code of silence.

Tell President Obama to bring justice to LaVena Johnson, and peace to her family. Please sign the petition here.

Originally posted to Diane Sweet's Blog on Fri Jul 26, 2013 at 09:11 AM PDT.

Also republished by Rape and Domestic Violence.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Extremely important (9+ / 0-)

    and all-but-ignored subject in mainstream outlets, LaVena Johnson's story is one of potentially many. In this article the writer highlights four other, highly suspicious deaths of women in combat zones, while suggesting that at least 20 of 50 deaths of female military personnel listed as non-combat-related remain "under investigation." In every case, follow-up reports on findings are hard to come by, perhaps non-existent. Fourteen of the 20 female deaths were listed as "suicide." And 50 out of 130 total deaths (at the time of article) listed as "non-combat" while deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan is a pretty high percentage, so it is pretty certain that other women who have died while deployed during OEF/OIF died under "suspicious" circumstances.

    Ms. Johnson's case is further complicated by the possibility (or probability) that her murder was committed by a contractor or contractors, who do not operate under oversight or regulations governing military personnel. Another possible example of contractor abuse of privilege and of operating outside of arguably tenuous restraints placed on military personnel in combat duty stations. Sexual predation is certainly a contributing factor in a number of these deaths, and this is just focusing on female personnel. While women make up a far greater percentage of victims of sexual assault in the military, the number of men who are MSA victims is actually higher than that of women. There are also a number of "non-combat" deaths that occur among men in combat zones, so it is also possible that male victims of sexual assault also make up a portion of the statistics related to men who have died in combat as a result of assaults by other U.S. military personnel or contractors. Even when what evidence that is available points strongly in the direction of the need for deep investigation and pursuit of suspects, it often appears the the military hopes that these cases would just go away. BTW, apparently Ms. Johnson's family has set up a scholarship fund in her name.

    Earlier this year, I was able to find references via, I believe, The Silent Truth site to a legal team that was still pursuing answers to Ms. Johnson's case. I can no longer find that link, and perhaps it is because DOD has successfully put a lid on the investigation. During the time I was doing that search I had found a link to an announcement by a DOD PR person basically saying the case was closed. I can probably find the information on that person's name/contact information if anyone is interested. In any case, it is horrifying to imagine a family losing a child (her father is a retired Army vet) to combat under those circumstances, being stonewalled by one's own government, suggesting that that government's attitude toward this bright and beautiful individual is that she didn't really matter in the end. Beyond heartbreaking.

    I discover myself on the verge of a usual mistake. ― Walt Whitman, Song of Myself

    by dannyboy1 on Fri Jul 26, 2013 at 10:52:24 AM PDT

  •  i still wonder why (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    kmfmstar, chimene

    any woman is willing to joint the US Armed Forces, seeing as how they have nothing but complete contempt for women and how women are at much higher risk for sexual assault and other forms of abuse and discrimination in the military than in civilian society. War is evil, and the training, brainwashing and preparation for war makes people evil to each other.  The US military budget should be reduced to levels so low that its only capability would be as a civil defense force, a truly National Guard.
    Abuse and mistreatment of women within its forces is one among many reasons.

    •  Not all military people have contempt for women (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Desi

      My husband served 23 years and forbade rape and ehnhic jokes (unless you were a member of the ethnic group).  And got told by a CPO that he was not permitting free speech.  Husband maintained that such behavior was unprofessional and deleterious to good order and discipline since fostered disrespect for women the MCPO and the LT (who was a mustanger--prior enlisted) told the CPO to sit down and shut up and backed my husband to the hilt. His shop ran smoothly and the women didn't feel threatened or like they couldn't have reported harassment to him.

      A lot of women go in for the college benefits or because they were military brats and have never known any other life.  My husband's ex-wife was one of them.  If you remember MASH, she was a Hot Lips Clone, aka a Regular Navy Clown.  Pulled rank on him at home--which was the final straw in a deteriorating relationship.  He had no problem with her outranking him, but he felt when you came home the uniform came off and you were just a couple.  

      There are a lot of really good men in the military, but it only takes one sociopath to commit a dozen rapes. And one CO to take retribution on the victims. There are a lot of older men who resent women in any role but secretarial jobs, and the standards got lowered during the Bush wars, which did not help.

      Incidentally, my husband turned down a promotion that would have sizably increased his pension after  Bush invaded Iraqw--he knew the war was bullshit.  

      Yes, war is evil--but not all wars are the same.  Would you have told the Brits and us to let Hitler keep all of Europe?

      FYI, enlisted people are paid like shit, and base housing in many places is decrepit, mold-ridden, and asbestos laced.  You don't get rich as an E, even if you go in for the college money (which ain't all that great). Why do people stay in? Because they realize the world is a dangerous place--and it isn't 1780 any more, where it can take months for the invading army to arrive.  Days is mor elike it. I thoink there's tons of waste on unneeded weapons programs, planes that don't work, and military contracts with the dense companies that should force THEM to absorb the cost of designing and testing new palnes--as it used to be.

       I was a very bad military wife, in that I don't buy into the propaganda and they hype (never wentto any ceremonies but my hsuiband's retirement) and made many nasty comments about referring to the Ob/Gyn floor as the labor deck.  But This isn't the 18th century, and if you want a ciovil defense force, they have top be trained to sue 21st century weaponss--and learning to use and repair and fly them takes lots of time at schools.

      The last time we mixed religion and politics people got burned at the stake.

      by irishwitch on Fri Jul 26, 2013 at 06:18:13 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Is it possible to repost (0+ / 0-)

    this diary?  A very important piece, one which deserves far more readers than it apparently has gotten.  

    I did not watch the video.  Where is the petition?  Please let me know.

    Please sign and share.
    www.signon.org/sign/sarasota-sheriffs-office

    •  Sorry, I did find (0+ / 0-)

      The petition.  Duh

    •  I don't know. (0+ / 0-)

      Is that allowed? I'd love to get more attention for it, and signatures on the petition. (We're at 200, btw) But there doesn't seem to be much interest.

      "We're from the government, and we're here to help." Diane(Desi)Sweet

      by Desi on Fri Jul 26, 2013 at 06:19:42 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  It's an interesting dilemma (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Desi

        I don't know how some items go viral...I'd love to know how it's done.  There are important items, like this one (and of course, I think mine is very important, too) and then there are the Abby Goldbergs.  Abby was a schoolgirl who went to-to-toe with the mayor in her IL town to have plastic shopping bags banned.  Very good cause, but saving a baby's life and justice for a murdered soldier are absolutely higher moral issues.  Abby received something like 250k signatures.  That's incredible.  I emailed her to ask how she did it and I never got a response.

        I shared your diary, posted and shared on FB and hope it gets lots of attention.  Keep in touch.  If I learn any secrets, I'll be sure to pass them on to you.

        Please sign and share
        www.signon.org/sign/sarasota-sheriffs-office

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