Suicide of lawmaker's nephew leads to military anti-hazing bill

Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif. Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif. Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

A group of House members announced on Monday that they have introduced a bill to prevent hazing in the armed services, prompted partly by the suicide last year of a nephew of Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., while he was a U.S. Marine stationed in Afghanistan.

The bill would create a statutory definition of hazing in the Uniform Code of Military Justice, create a national database of incidents to help determine causes, require studies of hazing-prevention training, and require the Defense Department to develop a plan to address hazing incidents.

Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the ranking member on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Rep. Mike Honda, D-Calif., and Chu announced jointly that their legislation is being called the Harry Lew Military Hazing Accountability and Prevention Act of 2012. Lance Cpl. Harry Lew killed himself in a foxhole in Afghanistan with his military-issued machine gun after being hazed by fellow Marines in April 2011.

Chu said, “Since that day, the military has been a perpetual disappointment – both in failing to deliver justice for Harry’s death and in their lack of attention to hazing within their ranks.” She added that military officials have “maintained that they don’t have a problem – that they are handling this issue perfectly.” She asked, “How can they claim they are doing everything perfectly if they don’t even have anti-hazing policies or training?”

A military investigation found that Lew killed himself after three of his fellow marines forced him to repeatedly do push-ups and other physical tasks, taunted, punched, and kicked him, and poured the contents of a sandbag over his face and mouth. In all, the hazing – described as prompted over anger that Lew had repeatedly fallen asleep while on watch – lasted more than three hours.

The three perpetrators were court-martialed, but Chu has contended that they were eventually let off “with virtually no punishments.” One who pleaded guilty to assault was sentenced to 30 days in jail and a reduction in rank. A squad leader and another Marine were found not guilty of charges tied to the hazing.

The lawmakers’ announcement lists several other military hazing incidents, including others that were also linked to later suicides by the victims.

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