Thursday, July 03, 2008

Crimes and Cover-ups

In July of 2005, a US Army Private named LaVena Johnson was found dead in a contractor’s tent. She had been raped, beaten, shot, and set on fire. LaVena Johnson was found with a broken nose, a black eye, loose teeth, and lye had been poured in her vagina. There was a blood trail leading away from the tent, and she had been set on fire. The Army determined that Private Johnson’s death was a suicide.

When LaVena’s body came home, her family became suspicious of the Army’s investigation and conclusion of suicide. Her father, Dr. John Johnson was concerned about the bruising on her face, and the fact that the Army claimed his daughter had shot herself with her M-16. The exit wound in her head was too small, and appeared to be from a pistol. He wondered why the exit hole was on the left side of her head when she was right handed. White military gloves had been glued on to her hands to hide burns. That did it. Dr. Johnson and his wife began calling for an investigation into what really happened to LaVena. For the next few years they used the Freedom of Information Act and Congressional offices to request information from the Army.
After 2 years, the Johnson’s were able to get a copy of a CD that showed photographs taken of LaVena’s body at the scene, and other pictures of her naked body taken during the investigation. There were bruises, scratches, and bite marks on the upper part of her body. The right side of her back, and her right hand were burned. Her genital area was bruised and lacerated, and lye (a corrosive liquid) had been poured into her vagina, presumably to destroy DNA evidence of rape. It boggles the mind that this could be ruled “suicide.”

According to the Department of Defense, one in three women who join the US military will be sexually assaulted or raped by men in the military. I doubt that statistic is hanging on the wall in recruitment offices, or even mentioned to the young women who bravely volunteer to serve their country. This statistic is double the US national numbers for rape. It is unconscionable.

Private Johnson’s death is not the only suspicious “suicide.” Since the beginning of the war in Iraq, approximately 94 military women have died there. Of those 94 women, the military says that 36 died from non-combat related injuries such as: illnesses, vehicle accidents, natural causes, or suicide. Two female sailors were shot and killed in Bahrain by a male soldier, and remarkably, their deaths were classified as a homicide. Five other deaths (including Private Johnson) were labeled suicide. There are other deaths that are suspicious. Eight women at the Camp Taji base have died of non-combat related injuries. Three were raped before they died. Two military women have died of non-combat related injuries on the Balad base. One was raped before prior to her death.

US Army interrogator Specialist Alyssa Peterson, an Arab linguist, expressed concern about how interrogations were being handled. After two nights of working in “the cage,” she refused to participate in any further interrogations. She died in Sept. 2003 of a gunshot wound to the head, an alleged “suicide.” Members of her unit refuse to discuss the interrogation techniques Peterson objected to, and the military says all records of those techniques have been destroyed. Mighty convenient all around.

The military has never welcomed women, unless they were nurses or secretaries. Women have long been regarded as “spoils of war” by military men, the execrable conduct of military men in Japan being a perfect example. Hundreds of women have been raped around the Okinawa base since 1945, and the military has generally turned a blind eye to the crimes. In April of this year, a Marine was charged with raping a 14-year-old girl in Okinawa. He is serving a 36-month sentence. Sadly, there are many more stories, including that current investigation of another rape of a 14 year old by a member of the US military.

At the Navy’s Tailhook Convention in 1991, dozens of US military women were accosted and sexually molested by their brothers in arms. The Pentagon Inspector General found that the Navy deliberately undermined it’s own investigation to avoid bad publicity, and ignored the participation of senior officers. A number of charges were made, but no one was ever found guilty. The Navy promised change – this incident was supposed to create all kinds of new changes in attitudes toward all women in the military. To be perfectly blunt – it hasn’t.

In 2006, Col. Janis Karpinsky told judges at the Commission for Crimes Against Humanity Committed by the Bush Administration, in NY, that several women had died of dehydration in Iraq, because they stopped drinking liquids in the afternoon (during 120 degree days) so that they wouldn’t have to use the latrine after dark. The bathrooms were poorly lit, and place where women were frequently assaulted or raped.

Rather than face any of this head on, the US military has continued to cover up and enable the crimes of military men. They have lied to grieving parents about the way their children died. This is unforgiveable. The military needs to be investigated, and held accountable for the crimes and cover-ups it has perpetuated, and they need to change their long held contempt for women.

“The military wants a system that protects its policies and privileges.” Benazir Bhutto

The photo at the top of the page is Pfc LaVena Johnson.

Please sign this petition asking for justice in the LaVena Johnson case.

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