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US soldiers charged in comrade’s death

Eight accused of hazing after private kills self

Seth Wenig/associated press

Su Zhen Chen, Private Danny Chen’s mother, wept in New York. The Army had told her little about its investigation.

NEW YORK — Eight US soldiers were charged with manslaughter and an array of other crimes in connection with the death of Private Danny Chen, a fellow soldier from New York whose body was found in October lying in a guard tower in southern Afghanistan, the US Army said yesterday.

Chen, 19, who was born and raised in Lower Manhattan, died of “an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound’’ at a combat outpost in Kandahar Province, the Army said. Further details about the circumstances of his death were not available, though family members said they had been told by military officials that Chen had been subjected to hazing while deployed in Afghanistan.

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The charges included involuntary manslaughter, negligent homicide, assault, dereliction of duty, reckless endangerment, communicating a threat, maltreatment, and making a false official statement, the military said.

The crimes the soldiers are accused of committing seems to suggest that investigators believe the soldiers’ actions led Chen to commit suicide, not that they directly killed him.

“As the legal process continues, further information will be published as it becomes available,’’ the Army said in a statement.

The accused soldiers were members of the Third Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, First Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division.

Staff Sergeant Andrew J. Van Bockel, Sergeant Adam M. Holcomb, Sergeant Jeffrey T. Hurst, Specialist Thomas P. Curtis, and Specialist Ryan J. Offutt were charged with involuntary manslaughter, negligent homicide, and assault consummated by battery, among other crimes, the statement said.

Lieutenant Daniel J. Schwartz, the only officer among the eight defendants, was charged with dereliction of duty, the Army said. Sergeant Travis F. Carden was charged with assault and maltreatment, and Staff Sergeant Blaine G. Dugas was charged with dereliction of duty and making a false statement.

The soldiers are still in Afghanistan but have been relieved of their duties and confined to a different base, the military said. The next step is a hearing to determine whether there is enough evidence for courts-martial. The proceedings are expected to be held in Afghanistan.

News of the charges was praised by Chen’s relatives and friends and by advocates for the Chinese-American community who pressed the military to conduct a thorough and transparent investigation into the death and to improve the treatment of Asians in the military.

The soldiers “must be prosecuted,’’ said Elizabeth R. OuYang, president of the New York chapter of OCA, a civil rights group that has been working with the family.

Until yesterday, the Army had said little about its investigation. In early October, a military official told his parents, Chinese immigrants who speak no English, that investigators had not determined whether the gunshot was self-inflicted.

But officials revealed that Chen had been subjected to physical abuse and ethnic slurs. They said he had been dragged out of bed and across the floor when he failed to turn off a water heater after showering.

Suspicion had flourished among relatives, friends, and advocates that the military was planning to whitewash the death. But military officials maintained that they were conducting a thorough investigation.

In Afghanistan yesterday, a roadside bomb blast killed five Polish soldiers in the eastern part of the county, the Associated Press reported. It was the deadliest attack for the Polish military there. Poland is withdrawing about 100 of the 2,600 troops it has in Afghanistan.

The soldiers were in a convoy headed to Rawza, in eastern Ghazni Province. The Taliban claimed responsibility.

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