Eight US soldiers charged in comrade's death

CHRIS HAWLEY
Last updated 07:41 22/12/2011
Eight US soldiers have been charged in connection with the death of US Army Private Danny Chen, 19, in Afghanistan.
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DEATH INVESTIGATED: Eight US soldiers have been charged in connection with the death of US Army Private Danny Chen, 19, in Afghanistan.

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Eight US soldiers have been charged over the October death of a fellow soldier who apparently shot himself in Afghanistan, the Army has said, and supporters said the 19-year-old had been taunted with racial insults.

Private 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.

Rep. Nydia Velazquez told a news conference in New York City's Chinatown that fellow soldiers called Chen "Jackie Chen" in a derisive accent. She said 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.

The details came from Facebook and email messages, discussions with cousins and a few pages of Chen's journal released by the Army, according to Elizabeth OuYang, president of the New York chapter of the Organisation of Chinese Americans.

Chen's family told the news conference they were encouraged to hear of the charges against the soldiers.

"We realise that Danny will never return, but it gives us some hope," said Yen Tao Chen, his father, speaking through a translator.

Community activists said the Army still has not fully explained the circumstances of Chen's death. They plan to meet with Pentagon officials January 4.

"We need to know the whole truth," Velazquez said. "Racial discrimination and intolerance have no place in today's military."

The soldiers remain in Afghanistan but have been removed from their duty positions and sent to a different base. They are under increased supervision.

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 analysed 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 October 3 death.

An Army statement identified the soldiers as 1st Lieutenant Daniel J Schwartz, Staff Sergeant Blaine G Dugas, Staff Sergeant Andrew J Van Bockel, Sergeant Adam M Holcomb, Sergeant Jeffrey T Hurst, Spc. Thomas P Curtis, Spc Ryan J Offutt and Sergeant Travis F Carden.

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According to the statement, Van Bockel, Holcomb, Hurst, Curtis and Offutt were charged with involuntary manslaughter, negligent homicide, assault consummated by battery and one specification of reckless endangerment, among other charges.

Carden was charged with violation of a lawful general regulation, maltreatment and assault.

Dugas was charged with violation of a lawful general regulation, dereliction of duty and making a false official statement.

Schwartz was charged with dereliction of duty.

- AP

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