Saturday May 18, 2013
Army Should Reopen Investigation Into Death of Pfc Lavena Johnson (VIDEO)Tim King Salem-News.com
Perhaps the government didn't do its homework before trying to cover this death up, or realize that this young woman's father is a doctor who worked for the Army for 25 years. If they thought this family would back off, they were mistaken.
(SALEM, Ore.) - The U.S. Army has a checkered past when it comes to honesty, and one of the most tragic recent examples is the 2005 death of Private first class LaVena Johnson; an African American honor roll student who set out to serve her country in Iraq, and was sent home to her family in a coffin along with a story about suicide, which her family says did not happen.
The amount of evidence in this case indicating that Miss Johnson met her end through foul play is staggering, astonishing... What has happened to the honor of our armed services?
What kind of people are running things? This story clearly begs those questions.
Balad, also known as Camp Anaconda, is a large American air base about 45 miles north of Baghdad.
I spent a few weeks there last summer while covering the war in Iraq. It is a large base where an unfamiliar person can easily become lost.
Pfc LaVena Johnson was found dead in a contractor's tent at Balad in July 2005. Two hours before her death she put on a reflective belt, that's a requirement for walking around Balad at night. She visited a military PX and made a purchase. When her body was discovered, her recently used bank debit card was missing.
She had a fat lip, her teeth had been knocked inward, lye had been poured on her genital area, she had scratches, bruises, a broken nose, two black eyes, and her body had been set afire.
The right handed soldier had a bullet wound on the left side of her head. Her family says their daughter was content and happy. Her commanding officer backed that statement up. Her childhood friends in St. Louis all say there is no possibility that she would have taken her own life.
But the Army still ruled her death a suicide.
The Army, a federal agency that has major problems over sexual assault within its ranks, apparently didn't believe any of the injuries LaVena Johnson had suffered prior to her death were caused by a second person or persons.
A simple fact when it comes to suicide, in addition to all of the evidence, is that statistically, black women are among the least likely groups to commit this act in the first place.
The picture began to change when LaVena's father used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain color images of his daughter's battered body and her autopsy. This revealed the unreported injuries and the fight was on.
"We found out they had held back a color CD containing close-up photos of the body and other material relating to Lavena's autopsy. When I requested in writing the disc be released to me, they flat out refused."
Dr. Johnson said that made him mad, and he became even more suspicious of a cover-up.
"So I filed a F.O.I.A. (Freedom of Information Act) request, and finally got it released. What I saw made me sick and was so horrible I kept some of it from my wife at first, she has already suffered so to know how our daughter died."
"She was murdered," Dr. Johnson said. He says he has been treated shabbily by the Army from the moment he learned of his daughter's death.
Her father says LaVena, "had a bite mark on her stomach on her right side, it looked like she was fighting for her life and they wouldn't let her go."
Her dream had been to be a movie director.
History of Family Military Service
Private Johnson's family is steeped in proud military tradition. Her father, Dr. John Johnson, is an Army veteran who also worked for the Department of the Army for 25 years. LaVena Johnson's two uncles served in Vietnam. And her grandfather served in World War II.
Perhaps the government didn't do its homework before trying to cover this death up.
Maybe they didn't realize that this young woman's father is a doctor who worked for the Department of the Army for 25 years. Maybe the government thought this family would back off. They couldn't have been more mistaken.
Many compare the death of LaVena Johnson to the tragic loss of NFL sports star Pat Tillman. His death by friendly fire has been accompanied by a whole series of lies from the American government.
I've been to Bagram, Afghanistan which is where Pat Tillman was killed. People there haven't forgotten him. I have also had contact with his family during their journey for the pursuit of justice. Without the families of these young soldiers, there would be no hope of justice.
It makes me wonder about the fate of young soldiers and Marines who come from poor families. The DoD frequently sends out news releases about deaths of servicemen and women that are "non-combat related". It seems possible that a lot more of this may be going on than we will ever know.
LaVena's father has cited more problems with the Army's findings. He cites the absence of psychological indicators of suicidal thoughts, test results indicating that LaVena may not even have handled the weapon that killed her, and a blood trail outside the tent where Lavena's body was found.
Even by itself, the fact that someone attempted to set LaVena's body on fire should have alerted the attention of Army investigators.
Alternet reported in April 2007, that Representative William Lacy Clay of Missouri's First District spoke about LaVena's death, the unsatisfactory investigation by Army officials, the the Army's refusal by the Army to revisit the case. (see: Rep. Clay speaks about Pfc. LaVena Johnson at Tillman/Lynch hearing)
Congressional representatives and senators reading this article know what they should do. If the people with the power want to sleep well at night, they will force the Army and the Department of Defense to re-open the investigation into LaVena Johnson's death and hold the responsible party or parties responsible.
Our citizen's military service is of paramount importance and accountability will do the federal government far more good than harm.
Here are two reports by Matt Sczesny of KMOV in St Louis, Missouri, LaVena Johnson's hometown:
This is an audio clip, Coz Carson Interviews the Family of PFC LaVena Johnson:
In this clip, Dr. John Johnson speaks about the death in Iraq of his daughter, PFC LaVena Johnson. His remarks took place in St. Louis at the 22nd annual convention of Veterans for Peace:
LaVena Johnson We Got Your Back!!! Sung By Coz Carson Tribute to LaVena Johnson:
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