HONOLULU – A second U.S. Marine is going to trial for allegedly hazing a fellow Marine who fatally shot himself in Afghanistan after he was beaten, forced to do repeated pushups and fed mouthfuls of sand.
Sgt. Benjamin Johns, a squad leader, has been charged with wrongfully humiliating and demeaning Lance Cpl. Harry Lew, who killed himself on April 3. He has also charged with dereliction for failing to supervise and ensure the welfare of Marines under his care.
Johns' attorney said his client was only trying to save the lives of his squad as he tried to get Lew -- who had repeatedly fallen asleep on watch and patrol -- to stop falling asleep. The base had been fired on before, and Johns was concerned Lew wouldn't spot Taliban fighters trying to attack their outpost again, Tim Bilecki said.
"These aren't acts of hazing. They're simply not," Bilecki said. "These are actions of a Marine trying to take care of his other Marines."
The general court-martial is set for Monday at a Marine base in Hawaii, the home of the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Division, which the accused are assigned to. Proceedings will start with the selection of a jury.
Another Marine in the squad, Lance Cpl. Jacob Jacoby, last week pleaded guilty to assault. He was sentenced to 30 days in jail and demoted to private first class. A third Marine will go to trial later.
Lew was a nephew of Democratic U.S. Rep. Judy Chu, who has called for congressional hearings on the military's efforts to prevent hazing.
"This is a call for justice," Chu said at a press conference in Washington on Thursday. "Too many patriotic young people, who only want to serve our country, are being harmed."
She also condemned Jacoby's sentence as "a slap in the face," noting he'll continue to serve in the Marine Corps because he wasn't discharged.
In April, the squad was assigned to a small patrol base in a remote part of Helmand province where the U.S. trying to disrupt Taliban drug and weapons trafficking.
By April 2, Lew had fallen asleep four times while either on patrol or watch duty in his 10 days at the base. His leaders referred him up the chain of command for punishment and took him off patrols so he could get more rest so he wouldn't fall asleep.
A command investigation report on the incident said Johns, after discovering that Lew had dozed again, told other fellow lance corporals that "peers should correct peers."
At about 11 p.m., he woke up another Marine who was due to relieve Lew two hours later and had him take over the job early. Johns also ordered Lew to dig a foxhole deep enough for him to stand in, so he would stay awake while on watch.
The violence escalated after Johns went to sleep.
Jacoby admitted in his court martial that he punched and kicked Lew, saying he was frustrated that the fellow Marine repeatedly fell asleep while on watch. He was also upset that Lew spoke to him disrespectfully.
The third Marine, Lance Cpl. Carlos Orozco III allegedly put his foot on Lew's back, ordered Lew to do push-ups, side planks and poured sand into Lew's face. Orozco has been charged with assault, humiliating Lew, and cruelty and maltreatment. His court martial is pending.