WASHINGTON — Military officials testified Thursday that hazing is not and will not be tolerated by the services, but lawmakers questioned whether recent high-profile incidents of abuse indicate deteriorating leadership in overtaxed, war-weary units.

Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., whose nephew committed suicide last April after being hazed by members of his Marine Corps unit, pleaded for an end to the culture of hazing.

“Although the military has policies in place, they’re not being enforced,” she said during a hearing held by the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel. “While people on the outside are horrified by these stories, usually the rank and file say that hazing is a necessary tool … to ensure everyone’s safety.”

Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Michael Barrett called the death of Chu’s nephew, Lance Cpl Harry Lew, a “disgusting” and preventable crime.

“In that case, the small-unit leadership failed,” he said. “I wish I could take it all back. We should have done better.”

But Chu bristled at assertions from the military leaders that hazing is widely condemned by servicemembers, pointing to “celebrations” on Facebook by members of Lew’s unit after two fellow Marines were acquitted of abuse charges in connection with his death.

“Why is there not a zero-tolerance policy that actually holds individuals accountable?” she asked.

Thursday’s hearing was prompted by a series of hazing cases, some of which ended in the deaths of servicemembers.

In October, Army Pvt. Danny Chen committed suicide in Afghanistan following months of harassment and hazing from his fellow soldiers. Eight members of his unit are facing charges.

A Stars in Stripes investigation last year also brought to light the 2010 hazing and suicide of Spc. Brushaun Anderson, who shot himself in a portable toilet in Iraq after his leadership put him through “cruel, abusive and oppressive treatment” such as excessive physical labor. Neither the officer nor the senior noncommissioned officers found responsible were given any serious punishment.

On Thursday, service officials said they provide regular anti-hazing training, but have redoubled efforts in recent months.

Earlier this year, Army officials published a letter to all soldiers condemning hazing as contrary to Army values. Corps officials said they are re-examining how they track hazing accusations and prosecutions.

But they also acknowledged that it does occur. Army officials said they have recorded 71 alleged hazing cases since 2006, involving 123 victims and 65 soldiers who were later punished. The Navy has had 46 alleged cases since 2009, resulting in 20 punishments. Air Force officials said they’ve had 21 alleged hazing cases since 2005, but only one resulted in any punishment.

Marine Corps officials had no statistics on hazing.

Military officials promised they are committed to solving the problem. Chu told them afterwards she remains unconvinced that message is spreading throughout the ranks.

shanel@stripes.osd.milTwitter: @LeoShane

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