Army Recommends Dismissing Most Serious Charges in Danny Chen Case; Family, Activists Disappointed

Private Danny Chen.
A news conference was held yesterday at the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association, on Mott Street. Photo by Jonathan Zalman.

Community leaders gathered in Chinatown yesterday afternoon to respond to what they called “disappointing” charges recommended by the U.S. Army against four of the eight soldiers implicated in the tragic death of Private Danny Chen.  Pre-trial hearings came to a close Monday when an investigating officer recommended charges be forwarded to a military court.  Senior military officials will now make the final call.

Supporters of the Chen family, who live on the Lower East Side, hoped the soldiers would be charged with involuntary manslaughter, which carries a sentence of 10 years confinement.  Instead, an investigative officer recommended  charging the four soldiers with criminally negligent homicide, which carries a three year sentence.  All four soldiers face additional charges, including dereliction of duty and reckless endangerment.

“Last month, we called on the Army to charge those responsible for Danny’s death with a punishment that fit the crime,” said Councilmember Margaret Chin. “Sadly, today, we were notified that the Army is unlikely to pursue the most serious charge of involuntary manslaughter against the defendants.”

Private Danny Chen.

Chen, who was found dead due to an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound in a guard tower last October in Kahdahar, Afghanistan, endured emotional, physical and racial abuses by members of his own unit.  He was 19.

In the months since Chen’s death, many organizations, led by the New York chapter of the Organization of Chinese Americans, have rallied around the young soldier’s family. Yesterday’s news conference was held at the offices of the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association on Mott Street. Standing next to Chen’s parents, OCA-NY President Elizabeth OuYang delivered an emotional statement to a crowded room. “We are in the dark as to why (the charges were) dropped,” said OuYang.

The Army has yet to determine the location for the upcoming trials.  The soldiers may be tried in Afghanistan, which, according to OuYang, “would compromise due process and justice.  If the Army is serious about prosecuting the case to the fullest extent of the law, they’ll hold it in the U.S. where the family can participate and be present. It must be ensured [the trials] are transparent.”

If the trials are to be held in Afghanistan, OuYang explained, the Army has advised the family  not to attend, because “it’s dangerous to go to Afghanistan.”  At the news conference, Danny Chen’s father, Su Zhen Chen and cousin, Banny Chen, reinforced the call for U.S. trials. In a brief interview, we asked Banny what he’d do if the trials were held overseas.  “We grew up together,” Banny said.  “He was one year older than me.  If it comes down to it, I’d go myself.”

OuYang announced a nationwide campaign, including petitions, videos, and talk-ins at major universities across the country in order to support demands that the trials take place in the U.S., and for fairer treatment of minority soldiers in military service.   The most likely location for a trial in this country would be Alaska, where Chen’s unit is based.