WASHINGTON — OCA (Organization of Chinese Americans), a national organization dedicated to advancing the political, social, and economic well-being of Asian Pacific Americans (APAs), and the Asian American Justice Center (AAJC), a member of the Asian American Center for Advancing Justice, are continuing to actively monitor the court-martial of soldiers charged in connection to the death of Pvt. Danny Chen.
Chen, a 19-year-old Chinese American from New York, committed suicide while stationed in Afghanistan last year after being subjected to racial harassment and physical abuse by his fellow soldiers.
On Aug. 13, Spc. Ryan Offutt pleaded guilty to hazing and two charges of maltreatment in military court. He was sentenced to six months of confinement, a reduction down three ranks to private (E-1), and a bad-conduct discharge from the Army.
On Aug. 17, Staff Sgt. Blaine Dugas Jr. was convicted of dereliction of duty and sentenced to a reduction by one rank to sergeant (E-5) and three months in jail (credited with 90 days of pre-trial confinement). A hearing for Spc. Thomas P. Curtis began Monday.
Mee Moua, president and executive director of AAJC, and Tom Hayashi, executive director of OCA, issued the following statement regarding the verdicts:
“While we are encouraged by the military’s recognition that hazing and racial maltreatment are unacceptable by any standard, we continue to be disappointed by the leniency of the verdicts. We expect and will continue to demand full justice for Pvt. Chen’s death. His superiors must be held accountable for their lack of oversight and leadership that enabled members of the platoon to engage in acts of mistreatment, harassment, and hazing.
“Having the media and the public closely follow these trials has been largely positive. However, care must be taken to not present expressions of opinion or uninformed conjecture as technical analyses or conclusions. OCA and AAJC will continue to consult with respected experts on military practices and law to give accurate and appropriate context to our advocacy strategies.
“Therefore, in evaluating the verdicts and the sentences handed down thus far, we recognize the importance of the following considerations:
“All defendants tried thus far have been convicted of federal crimes, a civilian equivalent of felonies on a criminal record that will follow the defendants for the rest of their lives.
“The fines determined by the court are somewhat unique to the military courts — there is no civilian equivalent for this portion of the sentencing and the degree of severity or leniency of the decision handed down by the general court-martial should not be interpreted to mean that the fines are the only restitutions that may be sought.
“The possibility of the defendants’ discharge from the military remains — a prison sentence of any length advances the case to the next step of an administrative review to determine whether the defendant should continue to serve or be discharged. All discharges that are not honorable or general will result in a partial or complete loss of benefits and impact economic opportunity for the discharged for the rest of their lives.
“The trials are a crucial step in ensuring leadership accountability as well as justice for Pvt. Chen. However, we must continue to push for stronger policies that address the culture and practices of hazing and harassment in the military. AAJC and OCA remain committed to working to address the following:
“A clear definition of ‘hazing’ that is punishable under military regulations;
“Stronger accountability up and down the chain of command;
“Stiffer punishment for failure to report harassment and abuse;
“Protections for victims and whistle blowers of harassment and abuse;
“Mandatory diversity training and inclusion practices to promote more diversity within leadership positions; and
“A comprehensive record-keeping system on reports of harassment and abuse.
“As the trials for the remaining solders charged in connection to Pvt. Chen’s death move forward, we will continue to advocate for long-term reforms in the military in alignment with our mission. It is our hope that these verdicts demonstrate the military’s commitment to bringing an end to the culture of hazing, harassment, and mistreatment.”