WASHINGTON, D.C. (Feb. 2, 2012) — Following recent high-profile military hazing cases, members of the House of Representatives, family members of victims, and a community advocate joined forces Thursday to call for immediate action from the highest levels in the military to stop hazing.
Thursday’s conference follows repeated efforts by the above members of Congress to raise awareness on this pressing issue. Most recently, they sent letters to the House Armed Services Committee and Oversight and Government Reform Committee requesting hearings into the adequacy of the military’s hazing prevention policies.
Members also called for Congressional hearings on the military’s effort to prevent hazing. Representatives Judy Chu (CA-32), Adam Smith (WA-09), Mike Honda (CA-15), and Barbara Lee (CA-09) were joined on Capitol Hill by Tom Hayashi, Interim Executive Director of the Organization of Chinese Americans (OCA).
Carmen Lew, sister of Lance Corporal Harry Lew, who took his own life after enduring hazing and aggressive treatment from fellow marines while serving in Afghanistan, spoke at the conference by phone.
The Department of Defense reported that on April 3, 2011, Marine Lance Cpl. Harry Lew, 21, of Santa Clara, Calif., died in Helmand province, Afghanistan. He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, III Marine Expeditionary Force, based out of Marine Corps Base Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii.
Lew’s death remained under investigation at first to determine if he had committed suicide or was murdered. Several members of his unit and chain of command were brought up on charges related to hazing and one Marine was let off with a light sentence this week.
“This is a call for justice,” said Rep. Judy Chu (CA-32). “Too many patriotic young people, who only want to serve our country, are being harmed. The highest military officials must make eliminating hazing a top priority. They must stop pretending there is no problem. None of this will change until the Secretary of Defense commits to eradicate the culture of hazing that is so ingrained within our troops. Soldiers in positions of responsibility in the field must be made to feel that they should stop hazing when they see it, rather than encourage it, or turn the other way. The perpetrators of hazing must be punished.”
Following the Army’s recommendation to drop involuntary manslaughter charges against one of the soldiers held in the death of Private Danny Chen’s, Rep. Chu said she was outraged that involuntary manslaughter charges have been recommended to be dropped against Specialist Ryan Offutt.
“This raises grave questions about how seriously the Army is taking this case,” she said. “If individuals who haze and harass their fellow soldiers to the point of suicide are not held accountable, than how is the Army deterring this incredibly harmful behavior?”
On Jan. 19, 2012, the two legislators joined 11 of their Congressional colleagues in sending a letter to the House Armed Services Committee and House Oversight and Government Reform Committees requesting a hearing on the military’s hazing and harassment prevention polities. A letter followed on Jan. 23, with two other Congressional leaders calling on the Army to provide a comprehensive review on how the department tracks its hazing and harassment incidents and implements anti-hazing training.
“This is a setback for justice for Private Chen, his family, and everyone who has been involved with this case,” said Chu. “I find it truly appalling.”
Rep. Mike Honda (CA-15) said the facts of this case tell him that the hand slap sentencing of Lance Corporal Jacoby is wrong.
“Clearly, the system at the Department of Defense to deal with hazing does not work,” said Honda. “The tragic death of Harry Lew is an urgent call to action. The crucial issue of hazing in the military must be addressed immediately. The brave men and women of our armed services must serve within a system that guarantees their protection and their families’ trust in their superiors.”
Lance Corporal Harry Lew’s parents are Honda’s constituents. He said many difficult questions remain about the incident, and many similar hazing cases in the military.
“There is no doubt that the Lew and Chen families feel betrayed by our military, and I am sure this is the same for many other families and communities,” he added. “We must restore that trust for their sake and for all of our military families.”
Honda said Lew was proud to serve his nation in uniform and that it is the responsibility of Congress to ensure that the Department of Defense has effective diversity training and stricter enforcement policies to guarantee that service members – no matter their background – are able to safely and honorably defend the citizens and the Constitution of the United States.
“We call on the House Committees on Armed Services and Oversight and Government Reform to take these warnings seriously and hold hearings in order to protect our brave service members from any future danger,” he added.
Rep. Barbara Lee (CA-09) said the tragic deaths of Harry Lew and Danny Chen must not go unrecognized and that a thorough investigation must be conducted to review the circumstances surrounding these terrible incidents.
“Further, it is critical that a top to bottom review is conducted of all the branches of the armed services so that we can begin to understand just how widespread hazing is in the military,” said Lee. “The racism that fueled the hazing of Harry Lew and Danny Chen does not reflect the values of our armed services, nor does it reflect American values, and we must not allow another soldier in the U.S. armed forces to endure abusive hazing ever again.”
Tom Hayashi, Interim Executive Director, Organization of Chinese Americans, said he is gravely concerned about the health and well being of Asian and Pacific Islander personnel currently serving the nation.
“We are also adamant about seeing that justice is served for cases involving extreme forms of harassment,” he said. “We call on the Department of Defense to commit to a zero tolerance policy regarding harassment, identify risk factors that create hostile environments, review their procedures for trying individuals in hazing cases, and develop appropriate communications outreach to the API community.”