The military has not done enough to diversify its leadership or stop harassment and abuse of minorities by fellow service members, lawmakers said Tuesday.
Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), whose nephew, Marine Lance Cpl. Harry Lew, committed suicide in Afghanistan last April after alleged physical harassment from other Marines, angrily told representatives of the Defense Department and the military services at a joint congressional forum that the armed forces have failed to take hazing seriously.
“Any claims that hazing incidents are isolated are unfounded,” said Chu, who complained that the services do not compile data on alleged cases or adequately punish violators.
“The feeling that hazing is a necessary part of military life is very, very entrenched,” she added.
Mike Applegate, director of manpower plans and policies for the Marine Corps, told Chu that the case involving her nephew was “inexcusable” and that the service intends to stamp out hazing “wherever it exists.”
“I just don’t believe you,” Chu replied.
In April, the Military Leadership Diversity Commission, established by Congress, issued a report finding that minorities are underrepresented in the leadership of the armed forces.
Lawmakers expressed disappointment Tuesday at the progress in implementing the commission’s recommendations.
“It sounds like there’s been a lot of talk but not enough action,” said Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), who presided over Tuesday’s forum, held by the Congressional Black Caucus, the Asian Pacific American Caucus and the Hispanic Caucus.
“I don’t see the commitment from the Department of Defense to the seriousness of the problem,” added Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.).
In many cases, Cummings said, the services have placed recommendations on standby, with more than half under review or in the process of being implemented.
“Things are beginning to happen,” retired Air Force Gen. Lester Lyles, who chaired the diversity commission, told the forum. “They’re not happening at the pace perhaps that we’d like to see.”
He credited the Pentagon with making diversity an “integral part” of the department’s culture and said all the services have clear, consistent diversity plans.
Clarence Johnson, director of the Defense Department’s Office of Diversity Management and Equal Opportunity, told lawmakers that the Pentagon considers diversity “a strategic imperative.”
He said the Pentagon is combating hazing and regrets “recent incidents that may call that commitment into question.”
“The department’s policy prohibiting hazing is unambiguous,” he added. “It is contrary to good order and discipline and is unacceptable behavior.”
In Lew’s case, one Marine has pleaded guilty to assault for punching and kicking him, while two others have been acquitted on charges related to the alleged hazing, which, according to a prosecutor, took place after Lew fell asleep on guard duty.
Retired Army Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, a member of the diversity commission, told the forum that the deaths of Lew and Army Pvt. Danny Chen, an Asian American who also committed suicide in Afghanistan last year after suffering alleged abuse, should have been prevented by superiors.
“The leaders in their respective chain of command who made conditions unbearable for these two men must be held accountable,” said Taguba, who also led the investigation of the abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.