New legislation set to be introduced Tuesday would require the Pentagon to create a database tracking incidents of hazing in the military, carry out an annual survey of U.S. troops on the issue and boost training so it is better recognized and handled.
The bill is called the Harry Lew Military Hazing Accountability and Prevention Act, said Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), who crafted the legislation and named it after her nephew. He was a Marine who committed suicide in Afghanistan’s Helmand province in April 2011 after he fell asleep while on guard duty and was subsequently assaulted by other members of his platoon.
Chu said in an interview that she asked Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, to include the bill in the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act as an amendment because it has a better chance of becoming law that way.
“Hazing has no place in our military, and it has a negative impact on military retention and the longterm health of military service members and veterans,” Chu said. “It certainly doesn’t create a bond within a unit. But, what is most alarming is that, for the most part, there has been no justice for the victims. I do think that if there is accountability and if there are those in supervisory positions who actually stop the hazing, then we could see a day when we eliminate hazing in the military.”
The recommendations stem from a report released in February by the Government Accountability Office that was requested by Chu after her nephew died. It found that hazing — typically described as abusive behavior meant to correct a mistake or serve as a rite of passage into a group — is not tracked uniformly by the services.
The Pentagon adopted a new policy on hazing Dec. 23, less than a week after the GAO released a draft report to the Defense Department. Clarence A. Johnson, the director of the Pentagon’s Office of Diversity Management, said in a response to the GAO’s preliminary findings that the Defense Department’s new policy on hazing and bullying will help the service track cases in the services.
The Defense Department also agreed with a number of the GAO’s other recommendations, such as determining what constitutes hazing and tracking information uniformly across the services.
The proposed legislation appears to take things farther. In addition to calling for a database of incidents, it would require the Defense Department to issue guidance on how to use the data, including information about “protected classes” such as minority race and religious groups who are “often the victims of hazing.” The database has similarities to one that was formed in recent years for sexual assault in the military.
The annual hazing survey of service members would be carried out by each service secretary and require an assessment of the prevalence of hazing, the effectiveness of training against it and the extent to which service members report it, according to the bill. A report to the armed services committees in both the House and Senate would be due to Congress each year through 2021 by the end of each January.
Speier said in a statement released to The Washington Post that there are “too many stories of hazing” and that the practice can harm mental health, diminish unit cohesion and cost lives.
“Unfortunately, for all these tragic examples, we still lack a clear understanding of hazing and the military’s response,” Speier said. “The creation of a database of reported incidents of hazing, implementation of surveys, and the implementation of new anti-hazing training are the least we can do to ensure progress is made to fight hazing. We must act to honor the memory of those who we have lost to abuse at the hands of their fellow soldiers.”
Lt. Col. Gabrielle Hermes, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said the Defense Department is working toward a “comprehensive oversight framework” that addresses hazing and bullying in the Armed Forces. It will clarify roles and responsibilities, incident reporting and investigation, the definitions of various behaviors, victim assistance procedures and training requirements. The effort also calls for tracking, evaluation and reporting of hazing incidents, she added.
“Hazing and bullying will not be tolerated anywhere within the Department of Defense,” she said. “The department continues to reinforce the tenet principles of treating every soldier, sailor, airman, Marine, coast guardsmen and civilian with respect and dignity.”
Chu said that she has been tracking an incident at the Marine Corps’ recruit depot at Parris Island, S.C., in which a 20-year-old recruit of Pakistani descent, Raheel Siddiqui, died March 18. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) wrote the Marine Corps commandant, Gen. Robert B. Neller, afterward and asked numerous questions, including whether the death was related to hazing.
Family members have told journalists they were informed Siddiqui died after jumping over a wall and falling three stories to his death. He threatened to commit suicide on his first day of boot camp, but recommitted himself to training afterward, according to the reports.
Service officials have declined to comment, citing a related open investigation by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. Marine Capt. Gregory Carroll, a spokesman at Parris Island, said Monday that with the investigation still ongoing, labeling the Siddiqui case as hazing-related “would be speculation at this point.”
This story was updated Tuesday with comments from the Pentagon.