Cohen condemns Marine hazing, orders ‘zero tolerance’
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Acknowledging he has no idea how widespread the problem is, Defense Secretary William Cohen said he was ``disturbed and disgusted″ by the violent hazing shown on videotapes of award pins being beaten into the chests of new Marine paratroopers.
Cohen, speaking Friday at his first Pentagon news conference since joining President Clinton’s Cabinet last week, said he is ordering the military service chiefs to find out the extent of hazing among their troops.
``I intend to enforce a strict policy of zero tolerance of hazing, of sexual harassment and of racism,″ he said. ``I am disturbed and disgusted by the treatment of young Marines in the hazing incidents.″
The videos were made in 1991 and 1993 at Camp Lejeune, N.C., apparently by participants in the hazings. They were first aired by NBC and CNN this week. They show Marines grimacing and bleeding as their comrades beat airborne pins into their chests. The pins are awarded after a Marine has made 10 parachute jumps.
Appearing with Cohen, Gen. John Shalikashvili, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said it was clear that ``some leaders were involved and did not take the right steps. That’s what’s particularly bothersome about this incident.″
Because hazing is not a specific violation under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, Pentagon officials said they were unable to say whether the two incidents were common.
Others inside and outside the military said hazing occurs all the time, especially in elite units such as airborne forces and that it is accepted and condoned by the victims and by officers and senior enlisted people.
``We’re not naive,″ said Marine Corps Maj. Scott Campbell. ``We feel that there is still a problem, and that’s why we are addressing it.″
In a separate news conference on the steps of the Pentagon, an angry Marine Commandant Charles Krulak said 30 people were involved in the 1991 incident, the more serious of the two. Nine of them are still Marines.
``We know who they are,″ the general said.
While the statute of limitations has run out on court martialing the Marines on assault or other charges, Krulak said he could discharge them.
``To say that I’m outraged would be an understatement,″ he said.
The Marine Corps reported that in the past several years 52 Marines have been tried on charges that stemmed from hazing incidents and at least 34 received non-judicial punishments such as forfeiture of pay, confinement and bad-conduct discharges.
``What has been called by the Pentagon an isolated incident that’s going to be stamped out is widespread, and not just among the Marines,″ said Chris Lombardi of the GI Rights Network, a coalition of peace groups that runs hot lines that service members can call to report abuse, harassment or other problems.
An Army enlisted man at Fort Hood, Texas, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he had witnessed a practice almost identical to the ``blood pinnings″ captured on the videotapes.
The enlistee said he had seen the practice performed on a woman, leaving twin scars on her upper breast. He also had witnessed a form of gantlet in which a promoted enlistee walks between lines of comrades as they hit or slap the person.
Two female cadets recently dropped out of the Citadel military academy in South Carolina complaining of intense hazing.
Leona Sanders, a graduate of West Point, said in 1995 that she was injured in a hazing incident called ``brass smashing″ in which a rifle butt was used to smash the brass breastplates worn by cadets on dress uniforms. She said she suffered injuries that forced her to miss a track meet.
In 1989, a group of male students at the Naval Academy chained a female classmate to a urinal and taunted her.
Last year three Army airborne officers were disciplined for their roles in a hazing ceremony called ``prop blast″ at Fort Bragg, N.C., in which soldiers received mild electric shocks, were forced to wear lipstick, and had food thrown on them.