Tue, Sep 20, 2011 - Page 7 News List

US marine sentry’s suicide sparks inquiry into hazing

AP, HONOLULU

In the chilly pre-dawn hours of April 3 in Afghanistan, US Marine Lance Corporal Harry Lew crouched down in the foxhole he’d been ordered to dig for disciplinary reasons — he’d repeatedly fallen asleep on guard duty — placed the muzzle of his gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger.

Three marines — Lew’s squad leader, a sergeant and two of his fellow lance corporals — have been charged with wrongfully humiliating and demeaning Lew. The two lance corporals have also been charged with assault and one was charged with cruelty and maltreatment.

A military Article 32 hearing on whether the men should be court-martialed on these charges was held earlier this month at US Marine Corps Base Hawaii in Kaneohe Bay.

In a case with mild echoes of the 1992 Hollywood movie A Few Good Men, the hearing into the 21-year-old’s suicide sought to determine whether Lew’s fellow marines hazed him in the hours leading up to his death. Testimony was also given that the marines were trying to help Lew.

The commander of the Hawaii-based 3rd Marine Regiment, Colonel Nathan Nastase, will determine whether the three marines will be tried after he reviews the recommendations of the officer who presided over the hearing.

The hearing depicted a squad of marines actively fighting on the frontlines while at the same time dealing with Lew’s problems. Commanders said in retrospect Lew may have been suffering from depression or some other medical condition.

Lew had fallen asleep several times on watch duty, when his life and the lives of his fellow marines depended on him being awake and alert. His leaders tried various approaches to keep him awake, including taking him off patrols so he could get more rest, according to testimony at the hearing.

However, on Lew’s last night, those efforts escalated into alleged acts of violence and humiliation, according to the charges heard. The marines are accused of punching and kicking Lew, making him do push-ups and pouring sand in his face.

Lew, the nephew of US Representative Judy Chu (趙美心), joined the US Marine Corps after graduating from Santa Clara High School and studying at Mission College in California. His first assignment was to join the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marines at Kaneohe Bay.

In November last year, he deployed to Afghanistan. Four months into his tour, the Marine Corps sent Lew to join a squad at Patrol Base Gowragi — a remote outpost in Helmand Province the US was establishing to disrupt Taliban drug and weapons trafficking.

Enemy forces engaged the base on Lew’s first day there, March 23.

That night, Lew fell asleep during watch duty — the first of four times he would do so in his 10 days at Gowragi.

A few days later, while the squad was on its own ambush patrol, he dozed off while on watch.

On April 2, the executive officer of the regiment, a lieutenant colonel, and the battalion executive officer, a major, found Lew sleeping on watch duty while they toured the base at 11 am. Lew’s head was tilted back, his mouth was open and his eyes were closed, testified Captain Michael Regner, the Golf Company commanding officer who escorted the other officers.

Lew was found asleep on watch again the night of April 2 after he didn’t respond to a radio check at 11:15pm.

According to a command investigation report, the squad’s leader Sergeant Benjamin Johns told Lew’s fellow lance corporals over the radio that “peers should correct peers.”

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