The Danny Chen investigation is now front page news. Yesterday, the U.S. military announced that eight soldiers have been charged in connection with the October 3rd death of the 19-year old Lower East Side resident. This morning’s New York Times leads with the story, reporter Kirk Semple writing:
One night in October, an Army private named Danny Chen apparently angered his fellow soldiers by forgetting to turn off the water heater after taking a shower at his outpost in Afghanistan, his family said. In the relatives’ account, the soldiers pulled Private Chen out of bed and dragged him across the floor; they forced him to crawl on the ground while they pelted him with rocks and taunted him with ethnic slurs. Finally, the family said, they ordered him to do pull-ups with a mouthful of water — while forbidding him from spitting it out. It was the culmination of what the family called a campaign of hazing against Private Chen, 19, who was born in Chinatown in Manhattan, the son of Chinese immigrants. Hours later, he was found dead in a guard tower, from what a military statement on Wednesday called “an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound” to the head.
In the same article, the Times notes there are two ongoing investigations into the Chen tragedy, “one conducted by the regional command, which resulted in the charges, and one by the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division, which is continuing.”
This morning, the Pentagon announced it had transferred the accused soldiers to another base in Afghanistan and temporarily relieved them of their duties. CBS reports a hearing will be held in Afghanistan to determine whether there’s enough evidence for a court martial. More from CBS’s story:
At the time of his death, Chen’s mother told WCBS’ Cindy Hsu through a translator that her son had always dreamed of serving in the military. He wanted to serve in the military and then join the NYPD. He enlisted in the Army early this year despite his family’s objections – he was their only son, and they were concerned about him. Once serving abroad, things seemed to go horribly wrong. The family was told Chen was “harassed and beaten” by fellow soldiers. Chen’s parents became concerned it might’ve been a racial issue. “[Chen’s parents] asked the question, specifically, ‘Are you discriminated against because you’re Chinese or whatever.’ Danny said ‘I would rather not answer that question,'” the translator told Hsu.
In the Daily News this morning, columnist Denis Hamill does not mince words:
The greatest horror is that Danny Chen was allegedly subjected to this abuse by eight other Americans wearing the uniform of the United States of America, on foreign soil, where we have taken it upon ourselves to be the beacon of the planet, nation building, winning hearts and minds, showing by example the rest of the “uncivilized” world how to live in freedom, in democracy, with liberty and justice for all. Except if you’re a “Chinaman” like Danny Chen. It made me realize that since we’ve done incursions into Afghanistan and Iraq more new words and phrases have entered the American lexicon, “towel heads,” “camel jockeys” and “sand n—–.” Better to objectify the people we strip and degrade in places like Abu Ghraib, the way we slaughtered “gooks” in My Lai wearing the uniform of the greatest democracy in human history. For the first time in American history we have a man of color as Commander in Chief of the Armed Services. He should spare no effort in prosecuting to the absolute max those that participated in the vile, subhuman abuse that led Danny Chen from the lower East Side to end his life rather than live as a “Chinaman.”
In a separate story, the news takes a closer look at Danny Chen’s life on the Lower East Side and his decision to enlist in the Army:
He was soft-spoken and slender — more gentle than tough, more awkward than athletic. Friends described the only child from the lower East Side as quirky and brainy, with an offbeat sense of humor. But deep within Chen’s unimposing facade was a warrior. The 19-year-old honor student shipped off to Afghanistan this past summer eager to defend his country. “When he joined the Army, he said he always wanted to do something new in life and contribute to his country,” said longtime pal Raymond Dong, 19. “We were worried about him. I warned him not to join, but the choice was up to him in the end. “I told him doing new stuff is good in life but don’t put your life on the line for it. But that was probably why he wanted to join.” Even before he enlisted in the military, Chen dreamed of defending his city. The son of a chef and seamstress saw his military service as a stepping stone to his ultimate goal: To patrol New York’s streets as a member of the NYPD… Raised in public housing, Chen attended Public School 130 and Intermediate School 131. He went on to graduate from Pace High School. When he wasn’t studying, Chen was often playing handball at a park in Chinatown…
Chin also appeared on NY1’s “Inside City Hall” last night. She said there must be “zero tolerance” for harassment and prejudice towards Asians serving in the military. Chin explained that Chen’s family is very strong but that the tragedy has “broken their hearts.”