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Eight US soldiers charged in connection with comrade's suicide

A 19-year-old private shot himself after allegedly being subjected to racial taunts from other members the armed forces.

Eight soldiers have been charged in connection with the suicide of Private Danny Chen, 19.
Eight soldiers have been charged in connection with the suicide of Private Danny Chen, 19.
Image: AP/US Army

EIGHT US SOLDIERS have been charged in the death of a fellow GI, who apparently shot himself in Afghanistan after being subjected to what a community activist said were assaults and racial taunts from his comrades.

Private Danny Chen, 19, from Chinatown in New York City, was found in a guard tower in Kandahar province in October with what the Army said appeared to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

In a statement today, the Army said that eight soldiers in his company have been charged with crimes ranging from dereliction of duty to manslaughter.

The Army gave no details on exactly what role the other soldiers are alleged to have played in Chen’s death. But a community activist raised the possibility that their bullying drove him to suicide.

Chen’s fellow soldiers had dragged him across the floor, threw stones at the back of his head, forced him to hold liquid in his mouth while upside down as part of an apparent hazing, according to Elizabeth OuYang, president of the New York chapter of the Organization of Chinese Americans.

They also called him “Jackie Chen”, in a mocking accent in a reference to the action star Jackie Chan, she said.

The details of his alleged hazing came from Facebook and email messages, discussions with cousins and a few pages of Chen’s journal released by the Army, OuYang said at a Chinatown news conference.

“Whether suicide or homicide, those responsible for mistreating Danny are responsible for his death,” she said.

At the news conference, Chen’s relatives said they were encouraged by the charges. ”We realise that Danny will never return, but it gives us some hope,” his father said, speaking through a translator.

Community activists said the Army still has not fully explained the circumstances of Chen’s death. They are meeting with Pentagon officials next month.

“We need to know the whole truth,” congresswoman Nydia Velazquez said, adding: “Racial discrimination and intolerance have no place in today’s military.”

The Army announced earlier it is investigating Chen’s death.

Chen was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, based in Fort Wainwright, Alaska.

Five of the eight soldiers have been charged with serious offences, including involuntary manslaughter, negligent homicide, and assault and battery. The eight includes one officer, who is charged with dereliction of duty.

- Chris Hawley

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