By Ernesto Londoño and Debbi Wilgoren, Updated: Wednesday, December 21, 10:18 AM
KABUL — Eight American soldiers deployed in Afghanistan have been charged in connection with the Oct. 3 death of a comrade who apparently committed suicide in a guard tower, U.S. military officials said Wednesday.
Pvt. Danny Chen, 19, an infantryman, died from an “apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound” at a small combat outpost in Kandahar province, according to a statement issued by the NATO command in southern Afghanistan.
Faces of the fallen
A military official told Chen’s parents that fellow soldiers had been physically abusive toward Chen, and taunted him with ethnic slurs, the New York Times reported in October.
Military officials declined Wednesday to release documents detailing the charges against the soldiers and did not provide a detailed account of the events that led to Chen’s death.
They said 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 were all charged Friday with counts ranging from dereliction of duty to making a false statement to assault, negligent homicide and reckless endangerment.
It was not clear from the information provided whether the military believes the soldiers actually killed Chen or whether officials are alleging that their mistreatment of Chen led him to take his own life.
Liz OuYang, a Chinese-American activist who pushed for an investigation into the death, said regardless of who fired the bullet that killed Chen, the soldiers who allegedly mistreated him are responsible.
“Whether suicide or not, the actions of these people led to his death and they must be prosecuted for killing him,” OuYang said in an interview Wednesday. “There can be no plea bargaining — they must be tried in the death of Danny Chen.”
OuYang is president of the New York chapter of OCA, a Chinese-American advocacy group that has worked with Chen’s family to demand answers about what led to his killing. She said she met with high-ranking officials at the Pentagon last week to discuss changes her organization believes are needed within the military, including taking soldier-to-soldier mistreatment more seriously; holding those who commit such mistreatment — and their supervisors — accountable; improving sensitivity training, with input from ethnic minority communities; and expanding screening and intervention during recruiting to better weed out those with racist attitudes or tendencies.
“Private Danny Chen enlisted to protect the United States,” OuYang said. “To be killed not by enemy fire, but by superiors in the army, is absolutely unconscionable. These people must be punished.”
Chen and the accused soldiers were assigned to C Company of the 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, based in Fort Wainwright, Alaska. Sgt. 1st Class Alan G. Davis, a military spokesman, said the accused soldiers have been transferred from their post in Kandahar province to a different military base and relieved of their official duties. He said the soldiers are under “increased supervision” at the new base but are not being detained. Davis said the soldiers will likely be prosecuted in Afghanistan.