Army Pvt. Danny Chen was hazed hours before suicide, family says
By MARC BEJA | amNewYork | Published: January 5, 2012
NEW YORK — The parents of a Lower East Side army private who committed suicide in Afghanistan learned more horrific details of the alleged abuse their son faced before he turned a rifle on himself during guard duty in October.
Army investigators have found that Danny Chen, 19, was forced to crawl more than 100 yards to a guard post over gravel while carrying all of his equipment as his fellow soldiers pelted him with rocks, his family said in a news conference Thursday. He was found dead at the post hours later.
The alleged abuse began “almost immediately” after Chen arrived in Afghanistan in August, investigators told his family on Wednesday at Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn, and continued nearly every day. Eight soldiers were charged in connection with his death, including two supervisors who knew about and did not report at least one incident of hazing, investigators reportedly found.
An army spokesman confirmed the family was briefed by officials on Wednesday, but did not disclose the contents of the investigation.
“You would think that after all of these months the pain would subside,” Chen’s sobbing mother Su Zhen Chen said through an interpreter Thursday, “but it seems that it’s increasing.”
Though the army plans to hold court-martial hearings in Afghanistan, Chen’s family has requested they be moved to the United States so it will be easier for them to attend.
“The family has been through absolute hell the last two months,” said Elizabeth OuYang, president of the New York Chapter of the Organization of Chinese Americans who is helping the family communicate with army officials.
“To give them some measure of closure, they must have the right to face those who are found guilty,” OuYang said. “We must be able to see that justice can be served.”
George Wright, an army spokesman at the Pentagon, said the location for the hearings and possible trial “is a decision for the court-martial convening authority in Afghanistan.” He did not say when they would make that decision.
While in Afghanistan, Chen was repeatedly called vile ethnic slurs, forced to do pushups while holding water in his mouth and ripped out of bed by a sergeant before being pulled across gravel more than 50 meters, OuYang said investigators told his family.
Local politicians have called on the military to implement better diversity instruction and recruitment policies in the wake of the alleged hazing.
In an email, Wright said the army already has adequate procedures in place.
“We inculcate our soldiers with the need to treat all with dignity and respect. We enforce standards, and when our soldiers fail to meet those standards, we take appropriate action,” he said. “The Army has had regulations and policies against hazing and bullying for some time.”
But OuYang said those protocols are not enough.
“We know you have these great regs on paper,” OuYang said in response to the army’s response, “but your enforcement of these regs pales considerably in comparison to what we know is going on there.”