Since Private Danny Chen died in Afghanistan in October, his loved ones have struggled to learn the events leading up to his death. Yesterday, thanks to tireless advocacy by his family and activists in the Chinese-American community, the U.S. Army finally provided some answers.
“Over two months, this family has learned by dribs and drabs what happened to their son,” said Liz OuYang, the president of the Organization of Chinese Americans New York chapter, told a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd of journalists at a Chinatown press conference this afternoon. OCA-New York has led the fight for justice in Chen’s death. “It takes a volunteer civil rights organization, plus many other organizations, plus the family, plus the press, to demand the truth and make the system work.”
After a Dec. 15 march in Chinatown involving 36 community groups, 10,000 viewings of a video about Chen, 5,000 petition signatures and other efforts including demands from local elected officials, Army leaders invited the family to Fort Hamilton yesterday, where they finally coughed up details of the 19-year-old private’s time serving in Afghanistan. OuYang painted a grim picture of their revelations, which have led military investigators to charge eight of his fellow soldiers in his Oct. 3 death by self-inflicted gunshot.
Immediately after arriving in August, she said, Chen was subjected to “excessive exercises” which “quickly crossed over into abuse,” the family was told. Over the course of six weeks, he was made to do push-ups and sit-ups under extreme conditions, such as holding mouthfuls of water, as well as crawling over gravel carrying full loads of gear. He was subjected to racial slurs including “Chink” and “Dragon Lady.” While his platoon was constructing a new tent, Chen was ridiculed and ordered to issue commands in Chinese, even though no one else present spoke his native language.