WASHINGTON – This past week brought to a close the last of eight courts-martial of soldiers charged in connection with the death of Army Pvt. Danny Chen, a 19-year-old Chinese American from Manhattan, who died in Afghanistan in October 2011 of non-combat injuries following weeks of bullying and abuse by superiors in his unit.
OCA, a national organization dedicated to advancing the political, social and economic well-being of Asian Pacific Americans, and the Asian American Justice Center (AAJC), a member of the Asian American Center for Advancing Justice, continue to seek policy reforms that would strengthen and protect all service members from such abuse.
On Monday, the prosecution in the case against First Lt. Daniel Schwartz — Chen’s platoon leader — accepted the defense’s request for non-judicial punishment. Such a deal avoids trial and results in the formal charges related to Chen’s hazing and maltreatment being withdrawn.
Schwartz will now be separated from the Army through an administrative process.
“There have been too many cases of military hazing, and we must have reforms that protect those vulnerable to hazing in our armed forces,” said Mee Moua, president and executive director of AAJC. “Policy-makers must act on the lessons learned from these tragedies to implement policies that are strong, comprehensive, and that send a clear message that harassment and abuse of service members will be met with serious consequences.”
Schwartz’s punishment follows seven courts-martial of other members of the unit that included convictions of maltreatment, hazing, dereliction of duty and assault. Punishments ranged from demotions in rank, forfeited pay, restricted hard labor and short jail sentences (up to six months). Only one soldier received a discharge for bad conduct.
“Such punishments are too light and reflect a significant void in our military justice system,” said Tom Hayashi, executive director of OCA. “New legislative regulations on hazing can help ensure the safety of all men and women in uniform.”
Rep. Judy Chu (D-El Monte), said of Schwartz, the only officer charged in the Chen case, “He helped haze Danny so mercilessly that he took his own life. Now he’s cutting and running from the consequences! This is not justice, and it’s past time for Congress to act to stop hazing. We must end hazing and protect our troops.”
Chu lost a nephew, Lance Cpl. Harry Lew, under similar circumstances.
U.S. House and Senate conference committee members are sending a reconciled version of the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), an annual defense budget bill, to the full Congress. It contains provisions that address the prevalence of hazing and the need for prevention policies through the requirement of a military report to Congress and anonymous reporting.