Civil Rights Groups Monitor Verdicts in Chen Case

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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 of AAJC and Tom Hayashi of OCA.

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.”

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4 Comments

  1. It’s unfortunate that Danny Chen committed suicide, the most selfish act one can do. But the Army as a whole failed Danny, not his leaders. The Army Recruiter who enlisted him as an infantry knowing Danny did not have what it took, the Drill Sergeants that allowed him to pass Basic training and AIT without passing a PT test and making sure he was mentally and physically fit, Human Resources Command for assigning him to a unit in Alaska knowing that they had already deployed, for not giving him the benefit to attend pre-deployment training in California like all the others and giving him a chance to be mentally and physically ready and to bond with his team, for his Senior Chain of Command (1SG and up) for not taking a moment to evaluate his ability before sending him to the worse and most hazardous area, and finally for treating him like a number, like just a body, like human capital. There are so many Danny’s out there in this respect and this is what you should be fighting for to ensure all new soldiers have the right and opportunity to be fully trained and capable before being sent off to war. If they had, Danny would still be alive today.

  2. Yes and no, Jane. Ultimately, suicide is the fault of the individual and the individual alone. I have served seven years in combat arms and completed two tours in Iraq, both times assigned to Scout Platoons. I am now assigned to Recruiting Command as a detailed recruiter. First of all, if a young man wants to enlist and passes all physical and mental tests, we cannot deny him a job just because we feel that he ‘is not right for it’. Secondly, if a Soldier passes all tests in BCT and AIT (or OSUT in this case), the Drill Sergeants cannot fail him because of their personal opinions (imagine the lawsuits that would bring). I do not know why he did not attend pre-deployment training, that is somewhat unusual, though far from unheard of. Once a Soldier arrives in country, they are usually assigned right away. Once they are with their PLT, they are given a few weeks to acclimate and are restricted from patrolling (at least that is how it worked on my deployments). It seems that his PLT was doing this, as Danny had yet to patrol outside the wire. My question is, who judges a Soldier to be fully trained and capable? I have trained over forty Soldiers in my career, before, during and after deployments. My opinion on their readiness is vastly different from, say, my PSG’s opinion or the CO’s opinion. Besides, there is nothing to say that something else would not have pushed Danny over to suicide. I have dealt with suicidal Soldiers before, the only thing that can be said in general about them is that they were all irrational and unpredictable. What would have happened when he started patrolling? For most people, a few weeks on the COP is a break from patrolling. I’m not saying that his unit has no fault, they certainly made mistakes. However, they were mistakes that many other units have made also. Blaming anyone for ‘failing’ Danny is a little absurd in my opinion. Suicidal people always seem to want to blame someone else for their own failings, rather than taking a good look at themselves and fixing the issues.

  3. This triad is about hazing and physical abuse. Danny Chen is not everybody’s punching bag or the enemy of US Army. Face the truth and accept the consequences.

  4. I disagree Jane. It’s not the Army’s fault for what happened to Chen, aside from the fact that they do not have enough in place to control hazing and bullying. He obviously passed the PT test if he graduated OSUT. The Army has specific things one needs to do to become an Infantryman, and Chen met those high standards. Chen may have been a terrible soldier, but dragging him over rocks, pelting him with rocks, and other abuse is simply unacceptable. If he was truly terrible, the proper way to deal with it is via counseling statements and ensuing NJP’s or possibly court martial. I think there is a lot of hazing and bullying in the Army that goes unreported – a ton of it. I’ve been at the receiving end of it before (Infantry myself) and it’s horrible, and all I ever did was look young. It didn’t matter that I could ace the PFT, shoot expert, and knew doctrine better than my superiors, I looked like I was 15 so that warranted beatings and even sexual harassment, and none of the superiors did anything about it. They enabled it. You have almost no outlet you can go to to take care of it either, especially if you’re a new guy. So I feel very bad for Chen, and I hope the 8 charged get what they deserve so that it sends a signal to the rest of the Army. If I don’t feel the Army changes within the next few years, I’ll gladly join these civil rights groups and recommend no one join the military because they could be put into an indefensible position due to race, looks, voice, etc, and it could lead to serious harm.

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