The family of an Army private from Chinatown who committed suicide after allegedly being mistreated by his comrades in Afghanistan said military officials have given them details about the racist taunting and bullying he suffered before his death.
Daniel Chen's parents and other members of Manhattan's Chinese community held a news conference Thursday to disclose what they had learned from Army investigators at a meeting the day before.
"Almost immediately after he arrived, Danny was required to do exercises which quickly within a few days crossed into abuse," said Elizabeth OuYang, a community activist representing his parents.
The family was briefed on the results of Regional Command South's administrative investigation into Chen's death, Army spokesman George Wright said. A criminal investigation is ongoing.
The Army did not disclose details of what its investigators told the family.
OuYang said investigators had told the family that the 19-year-old Chen was subjected to excessive sit-ups, push-ups, runs and sprints carrying sandbags, among other things, and that rocks were thrown at him to simulate artillery. She said the investigators reported he also was called racial slurs and was forced to work additional details.
When the soldiers were putting up a tent, Chen was forced to wear a construction hat and give instructions in Chinese, even though none of the other soldiers spoke the language, she said investigators told his relatives.
On Oct. 3, Chen was found dead in a guardhouse in Afghanistan with what the Army said apparently was a self-inflicted gunshot wound. He had arrived in Afghanistan in August.
On the day of Chen's death, OuYang said investigators told the family, he had reported to the guard tower without his helmet or adequate water. She said he was forced to crawl 100 meters on gravel with his equipment on as his comrades threw rocks at him.
The family said Thursday that military officials told them his platoon sergeant and leader were aware of the Sept. 27 attack and took no action.
While all soldiers go through rigorous training, military experts say what happened to Chen is beyond the pale.
"If you're going to have someone low crawl, we all do that," said Col. Jack Jacobs, an NBC military analyst. "When one person's doing that, it's harassment. When you're throwing rocks at him, that's harassment."
Still, it may be difficult to prove that his alleged mistreatment led to his death.
"Negligent homicide is tough to prove in any environment, I think it's going to be unlikely they get it proved here," said Jacobs.
Eight soldiers are facing charges ranging from dereliction of duty to involuntary manslaughter in connection to Chen's death.
The eight soldiers are part of an infantry regiment based in Fort Wainright, Alaska. They are from Maryland; Port Arthur, Texas; Aberdeen, S.D.; Youngstown, Ohio; Brooklyn, Iowa; Hendersonville, Tenn.; Greenville, Pa.; and Fowler, Ind.
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 if there is enough evidence for a court martial. The proceedings are expected to be held in Afghanistan.
Chen's family and the community members are calling for the hearings to be held in the United States, saying that to do otherwise would be unfair.
"We must have access to these proceedings," OuYang said. "We must be able to see that justice can be served."