Eight U.S. soldiers have been charged in connection with the death of a soldier from New York City, the military said Wednesday.
Private Danny Chen, 19, died of a gunshot wound to the head in a guard tower in Kandahar province on October 3.
The soldiers face charges including involuntary manslaughter, negligent homicide, reckless endangerment and dereliction of duty. The military did not provide specific information on how they may have contributed to Chen’s death.
"We realize that Danny will never return, but it gives us some hope," said Yen Tao Chen, his father, speaking through a translator. Chen's parents are immigrants from China.
With the help of an interpreter, Su Zhen Chen, Danny's mother, said on Wednesday that the news gave her some comfort and relief that the Army is taking this seriously. She said she hopes what happened to her only son doesn't happen again.
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 charged Wednesday, according to an army press release.
Chen had only been in Afghanistan for two months when he died. He was reportedly abused at the hands of these soldiers for being Asian-American.
"Pvt. Chen really represents the best of New York's Chinatown and our nation's immigrant tradition," said Rep. Nydia Velazquez. "And if there is a message to everyone in this country , especially to the armed forces, is that racial intolerance and racial discrimination have no place in our military."
The congresswoman said Chen's fellow soldiers had dragged him across the floor, threw stones at the back of his head, forced him to hold liquid in his mouth while upside down as part of an apparent hazing, and called him "Jackie Chen" in a mocking accent.
Elizabeth OuYang, president of the New York chapter of the Organization of Chinese Americans, said she was "cautiously optimistic" about the charges, but added that not only must the soldiers responsible for Chen's death be charged, they must be found guilty.
The eight men have been relieved of their official duties and moved to a different forward operating base, or FOB, in southern Afghanistan, according to Sgt. 1st Class Alan G. Davis, a military spokesman.
However, the accused soldiers are not being detained.
"They are under increased supervision," Davis wrote in an email. "And the nature of a deployed environment inherently restricts soldiers to the FOB."
Since Chen’s death, advocates, elected officials, and his family have pushed for the details of his death to be released in a series of rallies and other events.
Wellington Chen, head of the Chinatown Partnership and an advocate for the Chen family, related a Chinese saying that you "cannot wrap a fire with paper, the truth will come out. Hope that Danny did not die in vain, better treatment of minorities in the Army."
The family and advocate will be meeting with the Army on January 4.
The military said it currently has no timeline for an Article 32, which is the military equivalent of a preliminary hearing in civilian court.
Davis said the eight soldiers will likely be prosecuted in Afghanistan.