LaVena Johnson Military Rape Coverup

LaVena Johnson Military Rape Coverup

LaVena Johnson

Have you heard about the story of LaVena Johnson? If you haven’t, it wouldn’t be surprising because mainstream media hasn’t given this story much coverage. Everyone should know how this young women was treated by the U.S. Army. Included in this article is a short video. Please watch.

Here is LaVena’s story:

LaVena Johnson , a high school honor student, decided to enlist in the Army in order to pay for college. On July 19, 2005, after serving eight weeks in Iraq, she was killed, just eight days short of her 20th birthday.

Private Johnson – she was posthumously promoted to Private First Class – was found dead on a military base in Balad, Iraq, in a tent belonging to military contractor KBR, a spinoff and former subsidiary of Halliburton ,Dick Cheney’s company. She was the first woman from Missouri to be killed in Iraq or Afghanistan.

And the U.S. Army officially ruled her death a suicide, she shot herself in the head, case closed. But this is where the story begins.

Johnson’s family knew something was wrong. They had talked to her on the phone a few days earlier, and she was in a great mood as usual, and was planning to come home for the holidays, earlier than expected.

Questions were raised when LaVena’s family viewed her body. There were suspicious bruises, and while the military claimed that this right-handed soldier had shot herself in the head with an M-16 rifle, the gunshot wound was on the left side of her head.

But the truth began to make itself known when the family received the autopsy report and photos they requested under the Freedom of Information Act: The 5-foot-tall, 100-pound woman had been struck in the face with a blunt instrument, probably a weapon. Her nose had been broken, and her teeth knocked backwards. There were bruises, teeth marks and scratches on the upper part of her body. Her back and right hand had been doused with a flammable liquid and set on fire. Her genital area was bruised and lacerated, and lye had been poured into her vagina. The debris found on her person suggested her body had been dragged.

And despite all this mutilation, she was fully clothed when her body was found in the tent, with a blood trail leading to the tent.

Despite the overwhelming evidence, the Army initially refused to investigate. Through an online petition, demanded an investigation by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

The story of LaVena Johnson is really several stories in one, and is really about more than an individual Black woman who was raped and murdered by her fellow soldiers. African Americans have fought in every war since the Revolutionary War, and often their country has been a far more formidable foe to them than the so-called enemy they were told to fight.

Often, youth of color, lacking in opportunities at home and in need of money, look to the military as a career option and a way to pay for school. In light of all the death and destruction of the unjust and immoral war in Iraq, fewer of them took the bait this time, and opposition to the war among Black youth has posed a challenge for Army recruiters.

Perhaps these young people were channeling war resisters of a prior generation, such as Muhammad Ali, who once said “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong … They never called me nigger.” That war was devastating to poor communities of all races, and the Black community in particular, as their young men came home in the thousands, returning in body bags, or maimed, traumatized, as dope fiends, or completely insane. It was this “cruel manipulation of the poor,” as Dr. King called it, one that united people of different races “in brutal solidarity burning the huts of a poor village, but we realize that they would never live on the same block in Detroit.”

Forty years later, we found ourselves in another unjust and senseless war in Iraq, this “home invasion” as Philadelphia veteran journalist, Reggie Bryant, aptly characterized it. And LaVena Johnson is a symbol of this war, as a casualty who risks being swept under the rug. We may never know how many crimes have been hidden in Iraq. War is good for that sort of thing and little else, concealing the rapes, murders, shooting of children, bombing and pillaging of homes, the money stealing, and other crimes that are committed – including the crime that is war itself. People are taught to kill like animals, to dehumanize and humiliate others.

But the case of Pfc. Johnson raises yet another issue: violence against women is a problem in the U.S. military, and other murders and suspicious deaths similar to LaVena are being classified as suicides. And Johnson was not the only woman to die a suspicious death on the Balad military base.

As retired U.S. Army Reserve Colonel, Ann Wright, noted, one in three women who join the military will be raped or sexually assaulted by servicemen. Of the 94 military women who died in Iraq or during Operation Iraqi Freedom, 36 died from injuries unrelated to combat. While a number of them were ruled as suicides and homicides, 15 deaths remain which smell of suspicion. For example, eight women from Fort Hood, Texas died of so-called “non-combat related injuries” at Camp Taji, three of whom were raped before their deaths.

Also, a number of female employees of Halliburton/KBR have been sexually harassed, assaulted and gang raped in Iraq (shown in video). Their employment contract calls for such cases to be decided through arbitration rather than in a court of law. Halliburton and KBR, these war profiteers awash with money, even wanted one alleged rape victim to pay for their costs to defend themselves in arbitration. Lord have mercy…

It is clear that under Bush, no friend of justice, the cases of these brutalized and murdered women could not see the light of day. But we are living in a new time, so it seems, and perhaps now is the time that the family of LaVena Johnson, and all those other nameless women murdered by the military, will find the justice they deserve.

David A. Love Editorial Board member, David A. Love, JD, is a lawyer and journalist based in Philadelphia, and a contributor to the Progressive Media Project, McClatchy-Tribune News Service, In These Times and Philadelphia Independent Media Center. He contributed to the book, States of Confinement: Policing, Detention, and Prisons (St. Martin’s Press, 2000). Love is a former Amnesty International UK spokesperson, organized the first national police brutality conference as a staff member with the Center for Constitutional Rights, and served as a law clerk to two Black federal judges. His blog is

This article first appeared in The Black Commentator and is republished with permission.

Earlier articles by David:


  1. says

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  2. ArlineMathews says

    There is never an excuse for rape either on Military bases or elsewhere. Rape is a huge women’s issue which is virtually ignored by the women’s organizations. When was the last time that you heard of NOW doing anything meaningful. They don’t. In Los Angeles and elsewhere District Attorney’s win reelection easily if they have a big conviction rate. Their self intrest become apparent when you find that serial rapists here are plea bargained down to 2 to 3 years at most for each rape, be it a child or an elderly woman ar anything in between. Plea bargain means that the rapist does not go to trial but is convicted for just a few years in a settlement arrangement between the men for the most part. Then the rapist gets out in a few years, at a young enough age to do it again and to possibly murder his next victims so that they cannot testify. If they went to trial a serial rapist could get upto LIFE IN PRISON FOR EACH RAPE.

    What could be a more important issue for women? Women are not safe in their homes and many are murdered by thse sick people getting out too soon.
    I am all in favor of teaching job skills to convicts so that they have a chance to reform. I am all in favor of getting rid of our three strikes law, as I am in favor of making marijuana possession legal and other victimless crimes misdeneanors. I object strenuously to racial profiling and not treating all people as equals. As objective, and reasonable people we must recognize thatt a the stage of psychological treatment we are today we cannot help people whose brain cellular matter makes them compulsive sexual nuts and women have a right to feel secure in their homes and to be protected.

    • dale says

      this is the time when those LIBERALIST should speak up… WTF are these LIBERALISTs now???
      this is just one reason why I don’t agree with these people on the issue of GENDER Equality… that some professions are just for men and the boys!!!

      • Alana says

        Your ignorance is astounding. There is no excuse for any male especially male Soldiers (who are held at a much higher standard) to not be able to control themselves and keep it in their pants. Yes women in the military are at a higher risk of being sexually assaulted, but the truth is that the male Soldiers are also being raped. The cases of male Soldiers being sexually assaulted is not at all rare in the Military. So the men and the “boys” are also raping each other.

  3. Luke Easter says

    LaVena Johnson (In Memorial) Where Is The Justice?

    Just when you think you’ve heard it all,
    Another name is slammed into a brick wall,
    LaVena Johnson an Army Private First Class,
    Is she the first? Certainly this PFC isn’t the last.

    Is it any wonder Osama Bin Laden can’t be found?
    With a criminal loose in our camp running around,
    Destroying evidence, burning bodies, again & again,
    Calling themselves soldiers, claiming they are men.

    What a shame when the real enemy is on the same side,
    Behind the color of camaraderie these cowards hide,
    Punched in the face, loose teeth, she was only 5 feet 1,
    The Army claims its suicide, that’s all, over and done.

    How many before shooting themselves bust their own lip,
    Severe enough to the point it needs more than one stitch,
    Surprisingly they didn’t say she tried to saw herself in half,
    Which lie would be easier to swallow? You do the math.

    So, how did that chemical burn get on her private parts?
    Oh yeah, maybe a tattoo, some kind of new wave art,
    Why would someone waste time getting rid of DNA?
    Just maybe without detection they’re free to get away.

    Being right handed, she shot herself in the left side of the head,
    Moved her body from 1 place to another “after” she was dead,
    From the size of the exit wound when the trigger was released,
    There was no breath left because she was immediately deceased.

    The U.S. Army actually tried lying, hooray for her dad,
    He gave that crap the smell test and oh did it smell bad,
    7/19/05 her dead body found in a contractor’s tent, KBR,
    Broken nose, black eye, shot in the head and body scars.

    Military personnel or civilians aren’t we on the same side?
    Who is the American Government protecting, why that lie?
    Had to be someone with pull to get her alone, you’d think,
    I don’t have to be standing next to skunk to know it stinks.

    Where’s is the ACLU, what happened to the mighty NAACP?
    She could not have been more violated, do you not agree?
    A 19-year-old honor student should be shown more respect,
    But, this is how she’s being treated. Hey! What the heck?

    Can’t call it racial because all women are treated the same,
    Even academies and bases in the states there is this claim,
    We are truly near the end of days soon God will work it out,
    Vengeance will certainly be more than a punch in the mouth.

    The Uniform Code Of Military Justice aka the U.C.M.J.,
    But, where is this promise for LaVena, her assailant got away,
    Judging by the condition of her remains, she put up a fight,
    Now John and Linda Johnson are paving the road to right.

    Funny thing though, seems they have a roadblock in Iraq,
    It’s from the U.S. Army, who supposedly has their back,
    The saying, “with friends like these who needs enemies?”
    Guess the Army thinks first the perpetrator said, “please?”

    Here’s a little something to me that is simply down right scary,
    The hole in her head was from a pistol, which she did not carry,
    Oh yeah, if you think that’s something how does this fact sound?
    The fatal bullet that went through her head was never even found.

    If there ever was this kind of incompetence in World War II,
    Adolph Hitler or his off spring would be telling us what to do,
    Oops, I don’t mean us because there’d be no Blacks or Jews,
    And only if the Furor liked Mexican food maybe a Hispanic or 2.

    Whomever, wherever, whatever, an injustice did occur,
    We can’t make it right for others without justice for her,
    Hey, White House, the most powerful office in the world,
    Do you have the gonads to speak out for this Johnson girl?

    A petition was signed that is over twelve thousand strong,
    The Army closed the case anyway saying nothing’s wrong,
    Nothing like U.S. Intelligence, it’s the reason for the attack,
    If they hadn’t been storing WMD’s we wouldn’t be in Iraq.

    I saw something on the Internet much sadder than sad,
    Her mom distraught, shedding tears, clutching her dad,
    Soldiers carrying LaVena’s body almost made me mad,
    Draped over her lifeless casket was an American flag.

    Apparently the stars and stripes blows in two directions,
    There is one for neglect, another for promised protection,
    As it laid over her body on that particular sun filled day,
    Was it 1 of protection or 1 allowing the perp to get away?

    Beware this incident is not about colors, Black or White,
    Remember it’s a statement in the arena of wrong vs. right,
    I wonder if her recruiter bothered to make LaVena aware,
    The same injustice suffered here is also allowed over there.

    And here’s a timeless saying, which is entering my mind,
    There’s even a movie with the title, “Behind Enemy Lines,”
    Now that the light is shining on a lie that 3 years rang true,
    Who will step in & accomplish what the enemy refused to do?

    For every ranking Army official who signed off on this case,
    Nothing less than a court martial is what each 1 should face,
    Upon their conviction exactly where should they have to go?
    What about life in a cell behind barb wire fences at Gitmo.

    BTW, this isn’t the end of this kind story, not in the least,
    The sad tale of a 21 year old from Texas, PFC Tina Priest,
    After her “suicide” another soldier through his own neglect,
    Guilty! Being in the quarters of a member of the opposite sex.

    Like priest who joined the church to freely molest little boys,
    Sexual predators join the armed forces for their perverted joys,
    The biggest question still remains will something ever be done?
    Wining the internal war protecting our daughters from our sons.

    Update! From March 15,2009 here is some very disturbing news,
    This is from a Pentagon Report and it’s disturbingly so very true,
    There’s an 8% jump from sexual assaults reported last year 2008,
    Rising to 26% in war zones while 89% of the culprits get to skate.

    Yes, because only 11% of reported cases will ever make it to a trial,
    How many are actually convicted? The DOD doesn’t know (smile,)
    So, exactly what are these women doing after shedding their tears?
    Sadly, they are looking at the other side and their own through fear.

    LaVena, 7/19/2009 is the 4-year anniversary of your death,
    And the case is still unsolved? Well, don’t not hold your breath,
    Michael Jackson dies, everybody who is anybody shows,
    Savagely beaten, raped, murdered and still nobody knows?

    Oops! I’m very sorry, I meant to say that “they” are aware,
    In actuality the problem is that “they” obviously don’t care,
    Those who stood up for justice with Jena 6 where are “they?”
    Hey! Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson what do you have to say?

    Or any so-called Black Leader for that matter, what’s going on?
    Television, radio, Internet, news media, your voice is so strong,
    Even the SPCA when it came to Michael Vick, raised holy hell,
    But the true story of LaVena Johnson, no one has the guts to tell?

    © 2009 by Luke Easter

  4. Stephanie says

    This is so sad, so frightening. The U.S. would do better to use robots than mercenaries, but using either one to fight our wars is cowardice. A cause must be unjust if there aren’t enough real soldiers to be found to fight for it.

    Can’t say more except to reiterate the author:

    “…how many crimes have been hidden in Iraq. War is good for that sort of thing and little else, concealing the rapes, murders, shooting of children, bombing and pillaging of homes, the money stealing, and other crimes that are committed – including the crime that is war itself. People are taught to kill like animals, to dehumanize and humiliate others.”

  5. Dr. Jim Hamilton says

    This is one of the saddest stories i have ever read in this paper.
    It has always been a concern of mine regarding women in the military. I alway thought that they would be a distraction and many men would be hurt trying to protect them. Never in my greatest dream did i ever think they were sleeping with the enemy.
    But every time i would mention my thoughts I would be told i am just being against women’s rights.. But this article has convince me that i was right all along. Women are not and never will be safe in the military. It is not hard enough for us to keep our women safe in side of the country ! But we allow them to been sent to where we have no control at all for their safety, and blame the military for what takes place. I have never heard the stories of all the other women, but i feel that we are all guilty for allowing our daughters to go into a lion cage to be eaten by the loins.
    You can not make enough money to right this wrong !
    This should be all over the media !!!
    If we stop to think about it, all of the other wars our women weren’t there,what did our guys do to does women in other countries ? The women there need to join together and protect each other without having to have fear of retaliation for speaking up.
    This has nothing to do with any comments that Ali made, because if we didn’t have the military that we do those other country would be all over us.. Let me give you a little food for thought !
    Many of the men & women that fight wars are police officers in the usa or they will be once they are out. Just think about this !!!! They either have killed or seen many people killed in their tour of duties. But we place them on the streets to serve and protect innocence citizens and we can’t understand why they kill !!!
    Now i have had 3 brothers in worlds that were much older than me, so i don’t know what they were like before they went to war. but i know who they are now !! They most certainly in their minds can not be the same young men they were before they left for duty. But day in and day out, i hear people say i want my son or my daughter back. Once they have gone though a tour of duty ! They are no longer little Joe or Sandy.. Mentally they have changed!!! If we want to help our children, we need to plan away how to help them when they come back. Stop waiting on the government to give them meds to keep them in a state of mind that you can’t relate too.
    It is sad but true ! We can not help LaVena Johnson and the other young ladies, but we can start trying to help the one’s that are still there and stop letting other one go. These girls left us a message and we need to go to the powers that be and ask for change.


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