Today, the House of Representatives passed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), and with it, thorough military hazing prevention policies called for by Congresswoman Judy Chu (CA-32). The provisions, first called for in Rep. Chu's legislation, the Harry Lew Military Hazing Accountability and Prevention Act of 2012, would:
1. Create a national database to track hazing incidents and help the military determine their causes;
2. Provide a statutory definition of hazing in the Uniform Code of Military Justice if it would help ensure hazing becomes a prosecutable crime;
3. Require the Department of Defense to develop a comprehensive plan to address hazing throughout the armed services.
In addition to these provisions, the NDAA passed with an amendment offered by Congresswoman Chu, which requires:
1) An independent GAO study on each of the armed services' hazing training and prevention policies along with the prevalence and consequences of hazing over the last five years;
2) The Department of Defense to provide an annual report to Congress on their progress preventing and responding to hazing.
Following the bill's passage, Rep. Chu released the following statement:
"Today is a huge milestone in the push for hazing accountability within our armed services. I began speaking out about this problem following the suicide of my nephew, Lance Cpl. Harry Lew, due to hazing. From that moment on, the military's answers were always the same: We don't have a problem. But I ask -- how can the military claim they are doing everything perfectly if they don't even have anti-hazing policies or training? How can they know they are doing everything perfectly if they don't even know how many people are hazed? They can't. This victory will ensure that those at the very top change the culture and consequences of hazing. And I will not relent until these new policies are implemented and implemented effectively."
BACKGROUND -- On April 3rd, 2011, Lance Corporal Harry Lew was found asleep on duty. At 11:15 PM, his Sergeant cursed at Harry, loud enough to wake up the rest of the Marines, announcing that "peers should correct peers."
At 12:01 AM, the hazing onslaught began. Harry's peers took it upon themselves to administer justice and "corrective training." They berated him and ordered him to dig a foxhole, to do pushups, crunches, and planks with his heavy full body armor and a 25-lb sandbag. They stomped on his back, kicked and punched him, and poured the entire contents of a sandbag onto his face and in his mouth. It lasted a full 3 hours and 20 minutes.
Twenty-two minutes after they finally stopped, at 3:43 AM, Harry climbed into a foxhole and killed himself with his own assault rifle. He was 21 years old.
Three soldiers were charged for the incident, but virtually no punishment was given. One soldier received a month in confinement. Two were found not guilty. The platoon just had a big celebration for beating the charges, posting pictures of their party on their Facebook.
Congresswoman Chu has been an outspoken critic of the armed services flawed hazing policies from the moment she sought accountability for Harry's death. Following his passing, Chu began to inquire about the military's established policies and responses to hazing, and found all responses to be lacking in substance. As she learned of other cases of hazing leading to deaths, suicides, and indelible emotional scars, she began to take action of Capitol Hill.
In December of 2011, Congresswoman Chu sent letters to the Chair and Ranking Member of the House Armed Services Committee requesting hazing prevention provisions be included in the NDAA. In March of this year, the House Armed Service subcommittee on Military Personnel held a hearing on Rep. Chu's behalf, allowing her to address the body and directly question military brass about their policies to prevent hazing within their ranks. The disclosures made at that hearing lead to Rep. Chu's Harry Lew Military Hazing Accountability and Prevention Act, which first put into legislative language the preventative policies that passed the House of Representatives today.