NEW YORK — Eight U.S. soldiers have been charged in the death of a fellow GI who apparently shot himself in Afghanistan after being subjected to what a community activist said were assaults and racial taunts from his comrades.
Pvt. Danny Chen was found in a guard tower in Kandahar province with what the Army described as “an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.”
A military statement said the eight soldiers from Chen’s company face charges ranging from dereliction of duty, assault, negligent homicide and involuntary manslaughter.
Fellow soldiers called Chen “Jackie Chen” in a derisive accent, an activist told a news conference Wednesday in New York City’s Chinatown. Chen was dragged across a floor, had stones thrown at the back of his head and was forced to hold liquid in his mouth while upside down as part of apparent hazing, said Elizabeth OuYang, president of the New York chapter of the Organization of Chinese Americans.
The details came from Facebook and email messages, discussions with cousins and a few pages of Chen’s journal released by the Army, OuYang said.
Chen’s family told the news conference they were encouraged to hear of the charges.
“We realize that Danny will never return, but it gives us some hope,” said Chen Yen Tao, his father, speaking through a translator. Chen’s parents are immigrants from China.
Community activists said the Army still has not fully explained the circumstances of Chen’s death. They plan to meet with Pentagon officials Jan. 4.
The soldiers are still in Afghanistan but have been assigned to a different base, removed from their duty positions and placed under closer supervision, the military said.
The Defence Department has been coping with rising suicide numbers during its protracted wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The 2010 Department of Defence Suicide Event Report released in September analyzed 295 confirmed or “strongly suspected” suicides among active-duty, reserve and National Guard personnel that were reported last year, down from 309 the year before.
The Army announced in October that it was investigating Chen’s Oct. 3 death.
An Army statement identified the soldiers as 1st Lt. Daniel J. Schwartz, Staff Sgt. Blaine G. Dugas, Staff Sgt. Andrew J. Van Bockel, Sgt. Adam M. Holcomb, Sgt. Jeffrey T. Hurst, Spc. Thomas P. Curtis, Spc. Ryan J. Offutt and Sgt. Travis F. Carden.
VanBockel, Holcomb, Hurst, Curtis and Offutt were charged with the most serious offences, including involuntary manslaughter, negligent homicide, and assault and battery.
Schwartz, the only officer among the accused, was charged with dereliction of duty.