Today, Congresswoman Judy Chu (CA-32) joined the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel for a hearing entitled "Hazing in the Military." The hearing was a direct result of Congresswoman Chu's year-long campaign to hold the military accountable after her nephew, Lance Corporal Harry Lew, was killed in a hazing-related incident in Afghanistan last April.
Her efforts, bolstered by a groundswell of petitions and grassroots support, convinced members of the Armed Services Committee from both parties to hold a Congressional hearing, which was the first to address military hazing in over three decades. Following the hearing, Rep. Chu released the following statement:
"I have been fighting for today's hearing since the day I lost my nephew, nearly one year ago. I remember getting the phone call and hearing that Harry was dead. I remember the shock, the anger, but most of all, the unanswered questions. How could this happen? Why wasn't the hazing stopped? Who would be held accountable for treating my nephew in such a horrific way that he actually turned his own weapon on himself to make the suffering end?
"For me, today was about answering those questions. Because after nearly one year, the only thing that has become crystal clear is that the military will not provide answers on its own. They think they don't have a problem.
"These are not isolated incidents, as some in the military have claimed. In Harry's unit alone, there were 6 cases of hazing in the year before his death. There is no consequence for the troops who engage in hazing -- 2 of the Marine's in Harry's case were found not guilty. Even a jay walker would receive harsher punishment. The third was given just one month in confinement. He just got out and all his buddies threw him a big celebration. What's outrageous is that if my nephew's beating and torture happened to any American civilian on a street corner, the perpetrator would have to answer for their crime.
"The only thing worse than that lack of accountability is the lack of interest our armed forces have shown in addressing hazing. Their absence of focus proves that hazing is simply ingrained in the military's culture. They don't keep track of the number of hazing incidents. They don't review the effectiveness of their hazing training or policies. They tolerate and even encourage hazing. And we can't assume that justice will be served on behalf of our loved ones because perpetrators continue to get promoted and lead fulfilling careers in the military.
"We need more than band-aid solutions. We need a cultural shift. We need to know that when the military says hazing will not be tolerated, leaders will stand by their words. We need to see proactive steps being taken to address the problem. That means keeping records of hazing. It also means holding culprits accountable.
"I am calling on the military to take the first steps right now. They need to create a database of all hazing incidents so we can track this behavior and better understand its causes. They need to report annually to Congress on their ongoing efforts to eliminate hazing, and the military justice system must be reformed to better address hazing.
"Today was an important step forward, but it is only the beginning. I will not stop fighting against military hazing until it is clear that our armed services are committed to protecting our sons and daughters as they fight on our behalf overseas."