Friday, February 24, 2012
Lance Cpl. Orozco found not guilty of hazing in last case related to Afghanistan suicide
by Larry Geller
The court martial of Kaneohe Bay Marine Lance Cpl. Carlos Orozco III ended today with a verdict of not guilty on all counts.
This was the last of three trials related to the suicide in Afghanistan of Lance Cpl. Henry Lew. Lew, who had fallen asleep four times while on watch, was allegedly awakened and then hazed by fellow Marines before taking his own life with his automatic weapon in his foxhole.
The cases garnered national attention due to accusations by Lew’s aunt, California Congresswoman Judy Chu, that the military condones hazing. Chu called a press conference after the first trial to charge that justice was not done. In that trial, Lance Cpl. Jacob Jacoby accepted a plea agreement, pleaded guilty to assault, and was sentenced to 30 days confinement and the loss of one pay rank.
In the second trial, the squad leader was found not guilty of all charges. Witnesses did not support the prosecution’s claims that Sgt. Benjamin Johns was involved in hazing, and in fact, when he found out that Lew was made to carry a sandbag on his shoulders while delivering batteries, he immediately put a stop to it.
The eight-person jury that deliberated today did not believe that the witnesses supported the government’s charges and returned a not-guilty verdict on all counts.
Orozco was accused by prosecutor Hanorah Tyer-Witek of “piling on,” that is, of going beyond what he had to do to correct Lew. This included making Lew do pushups, side planks, and leg lifts. There was an issue of whether placing a foot on Lew’s back was correction of his position or punishment, and controversy over whether a sandbag was ripped open and sand poured into Lew’s mouth. Witnesses differed and it was not established that Orozco actually did that.
None of the three defendants were charged with responsibility for Lew’s death. By this third trial, it became clear that jurors had all heard or read at least something about the suicide, and the judge was careful to instruct them to set aside anything other than the evidence presented by witnesses in the courtroom.
Hazing does occur in the military. See, for example: 17 leaders from Guard company in Kosovo removed amid investigation of abuses (Stars and Stripes, 2/23/2012). But these three cases did not support charges of hazing.
When the only tools you have are behavioral, medical or psychological problems will not be addressed
Jumping out of these cases for a moment, imagine that a public school student consistently fails to complete reading assignments. Teachers chastise the student, assign more homework, hold parent-teacher conferences, put the student on study hall detention, and try everything they can to get the student to perform.
But the student has a learning disability, say, dyslexia, and can’t actually complete the assignments.
If the only tool that the system has is behavioral intervention, they will be doing things to the student, not for the student, and sooner or later something will go badly wrong.
Perhaps the student will simply fail, or perhaps the student will act out and bad conduct issues will arise. What the student needs is an evaluation followed by addressing the dyslexia problem.
Back to these cases.
Why was Lance Cpl. Lew put on watch on a particularly critical post, the very spot where Taliban might enter to attack the base? He was situated where they might even have seen that he was asleep, according to the prosecution’s own maps. Lew had fallen asleep three times but gave assurances that he would not doze off again—and then he did.
He was then “corrected,” which is to say, behavioral modification techniques were used to keep him awake until his usual time to sleep.
Yes, he had fallen asleep three times. There is a saying about doing something over and over again and expecting a different outcome. It should be questioned why Lew was put on watch again without some appropriate intervention.
Perhaps Lew had a medical or psychological condition that caused him to doze off. For example, anemia will do it. Of course, he didn’t want to fall asleep. From all reports, Lew had high expectations of himself. He was also physically fit. He didn’t want to fall asleep, but he did. Instead of suspecting that there was some underlying cause that needed treatment, the only tool available in the midst of battle was behavior mod.
And it didn’t work. Lew committed suicide. We don’t know why. I think it’s safe to say that a Marine who falls asleep on watch three times should have been given help to discover the likely underlying problem.
So no, other Marines have not been shown to be responsible for his death. On the other hand, the system, and no doubt the location in Helmand Province in Afghanistan, did not work to give him the help he needed to be a good Marine, a goal which it appears he desperately wanted for himself.
I attended these courts martial in part because I think the issue of “hazing” is too simplistic. Physical correction may not always be the best course of action. I would like to see the services look at the unfortunate loss of Lance Cpl. Henry Lew again, not to assign blame, but to see how they might have handled the situation differently. What they may learn about this Lew may benefit all the Lews who suffer because there is presently no way to give them what they need to continue to serve effectively.
Thank you Larry.
Nacolepsy is also a diagnosable medical condition.
If anyone tried to find the cause.