(FinalCall.com) – When a soldier enlists in the American military, there is perhaps no worse news than to receive the awful notification that a loved one has died. The pain and sense of loss must be almost unbearable and bring a burden that can test the strongest parents and families.
But to have a loved one who was possibly raped and murdered at the hands of a fellow soldier or battlefield colleague must bring a sense of outrage and anger that accompanies the great sense of loss. With a battlefield death, there is a ceremony and maybe the consolation that the soldier died at the service of her country. With the prospect of murder, closure can only come with justice for the life of an innocent wrongly taken.
The parents of LaVena Johnson, who was 19-year-old when she died in Balad, Iraq, are struggling with the aftermath of her death and engaged in a battle to uncover the truth. Linda and John Johnson say their daughter was mentally strong and came from a close knit family. They don’t buy the Army’s claim that Private First Class Johnson committed suicide. The couple maintains photos and other information, much obtained under duress from the Army; don’t bear witness to a suicide. For example, for the Army story to work, LaVena would had to have held a high-powered rifle in the wrong hand and shot herself in the head. Typically suicides with a rifle involve placing the weapon under the chin or in the mouth to achieve the desperate act.
The Johnson’s said their daughter couldn’t have shot herself as described by the Army and Army photos of her of dead body offer other evidence. John Johnson said his baby girl’s nose was broken, teeth were knocked out, scratches and bruises could be seen on her body and burns were found on the right side of her back and on her right hand. Her vaginal area was “tore all to hell,” according to her father. The parents are convinced that in an attempt to hide evidence of rape, lye was apparently poured into the young woman’s private parts.
LaVena’s mother never wanted her daughter to join the military and the child’s almost daily calls home from the base communications center didn’t erase her fears. “She would try to reassure me that being there right on the base that she would be ok, but she was in a place with a bunch of Satanic predators that wore the same uniform that she did,” said Linda Johnson, of her daughter.
The couple is awaiting a response to their call for a full investigation by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee into their daughter’s death. Rep. William Clay, a Black congressman from Missouri, raised questions about the death of LaVena Johnson during a nationally televised hearing and the Army responded with a CD containing photos from her death. Before Rep. Clay raised his voice, the Army had told the Johnson’s they weren’t entitled to the photos of their dead daughter.
Rep. Clay did the right thing by raising questions about this case and the Congressional Black Caucus should fully stand behind the call for an investigation. The Johnson family is pushing forward in its quest for truth with support from Color of Change, an activist internet organization that has created an on-line petition, and Black media outlets have allowed the couple from St. Louis to share their story.
If the couple’s charges about the death of their daughter are proven true, it would not be a surprise. A horrible reality faced by women in the military today is the specter of rape and assault–not from an enemy but from someone wearing the same uniform.
While Bush administration spokesmen, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and President Bush were proud to announce Iraqi women no longer had to endure rape rooms under one-time U.S. patron Saddam Hussein as part of victory cries in Iraq, little is heard from the White House when it comes to sexual assaults and gang rapes suffered by U.S. servicewomen.
Such incidents don’t make for very good public relations materials or help sell lies about a war that was built on deceit and fabrications from the beginning. One group counted nearly 1,000 instances of Bush administration lies told to buttress its desire to go to war in Iraq.
“As my favorite playwright, Bertina Brecht, said, ‘When the leaders talk of peace, the people know the war has already begun.’ When the suits talk now about rescuing women, sisters should know that mass rapes have already started. Go to the u.s. women closest to the scene of the crime–the tens of thousands of servicewomen in khaki and desert camouflage. There they are, with M-16s in hand, in combat boots, young and fit, been through the world’s most expensive patriarchal capitalist boot camp. Are they protecting Iraqi women and children from terrorism and rape? No way. Because they’re the first line of vics themselves. They’re who gets raped first in the warmup before GI rapists even get to the Iraqi women and children. How can they protect Iraqi women and children if they can’t protect themselves?” asked essayist Bruce Lee, who wrote an on-line piece titled “For Women Only: The Rape Movement in Iraq & Men’s Anti-War Politics.”
The Denver Post reported back in 2004 that U.S. servicewomen were being victimized. “No war comes without cost, but the cost should be born out of conflict with the enemy, and not because of egregious violations by some of our own troops,” said Senator Susan Collins, a Maine Republican on the Armed Services personnel subcommittee, according to the New York Times.
The sexual abuses can start long before the women even officially don a military uniform. The Associated Press reported in 2006 that 100 high school girls were raped or sexually assaulted by military recruiters.
The tendency for the Bush administration and the military to lie and engage in cover-ups and the already documented horror stories of the brutal violations of women in the U.S. armed forces demand forceful action. The Congressional Black Caucus should take the lead and the Democratic Party should follow quickly behind to get to the truth of the death of LaVena Johnson. It is shameful that little protection seems to exist for women because they took a vow to protect their country.
- U.S. Army says suicide; Parents seek investigation (FCN, 08-19-2008)