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8 soldiers charged in death of fellow serviceman

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 1:09 PM EST, Wed December 21, 2011
Army Pvt. Danny Chen is honored in a funeral procession on October 13, 2011, in New York's Chinatown.
Army Pvt. Danny Chen is honored in a funeral procession on October 13, 2011, in New York's Chinatown.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: The family is glad for the charges, but wants convictions
  • Those charged have been moved to a different base in Afghanistan
  • Chen was found dead in a guard tower in Afghanistan
  • The charges were filed Wednesday

(CNN) -- Eight U.S. soldiers have been charged in connection with the October death of a fellow soldier in Afghanistan, the Army said Wednesday.

Pvt. Danny Chen, 19, was found dead in a guard tower, apparently from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Chen's family says that until they see the autopsy results themselves, they cannot confirm or deny it was suicide.

The eight officers and enlisted servicemen face various charges, including dereliction of duty, making false statements, maltreatment and involuntary manslaughter, the Army said in a statement.

The Army did not specify what alleged acts by the soldiers resulted in the charges, which were filed Wednesday.

But in correspondence with his family before his death, Chen complained of harassment by his fellow soldiers.

At a candlelight vigil for Chen held in Manhattan last week, his brother, Banny Chen, read from a letter the soldier had sent to his family.

"They ask if I'm from China a few times a day. They also called out my name, 'Chen,' in a goat-like voice sometimes for no reason. No idea how it started, but it's just best to ignore it."

The Chen family told The New York Times in October that officials said that Chen had suffered physical abuse and ethnic slurs by superiors, including an incident in which he was dragged out of bed and across the floor for failing to turn off a water heater after showering.

In its announcement, the Army makes no mention of the harassment allegations, but states, "As the legal process continues, further information will be published as it becomes available."

The charges stem from "conduct that occurred in the time leading up to (Chen's) death," an Army official familiar with details of the investigation told CNN. He declined to be identified because the military criminal investigation remains ongoing.

The Army official said the soldiers are essentially charged with hazing and abusing Chen in the weeks and days before he apparently killed himself. But the case remains open and other charges could be filed, the official said.

The soldiers facing charges were identified as 1st Lt. Daniel J. Schwartz, Staff Sgt. Blaine G. Dugas, Staff Sgt. Andrew J. Van Bockel, Sgt. Adam M. Holcomb, Sgt. Jeffrey T. Hurst, Spc. Thomas P. Curtis, Spc. Ryan J. Offutt and Sgt. Travis F. Carden.

All the soldiers belonged to C Company, 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, 1st Styker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, the Army said.

Schwartz, the only officer charged, faces eight counts of dereliction of duty.

The enlisted soldiers face more serious charges, including dereliction of duty but also maltreatment, assault, involuntary manslaughter and negligent homicide.

The eight men charged have been moved to a different base in southern Afghanistan and remain under restriction. They are not permitted to leave the base, the Army official said.

"We feel some comfort and relief to know the Army is taking it seriously," Chen's mother, Su Zhan Chen, said through a translator at a news conference Wednesday.

"We are cautiously optimistic because of today's news," said Elizabeth Ou Yang, president of the Asian-American group OCA-NY, who spoke as a representative of the family.

But, she added, the family hopes that those responsible will be not just charged, but convicted.

"They must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law," Yang added.

Rep. Nydia Velazquez, D-New York, who was also present with the family at the conference, said that she has requested the autopsy results and asked the inspector general of the Army to conduct a separate investigation.

"We are here today to demand answers... and that begins with a full accounting of all the facts," she said.

In a similar case earlier this year, three Marines were charged with beating and hazing a fellow Marine, Harry Lew, after Lew fell asleep on watch duty.

The Marine was beaten and forced to do exercises and to dig a hole until the early morning. When the punishment was over, he climbed into the hole he had just dug and shot himself, said Rep. Judy Chu of California, Lew's aunt.

CNN's Barbara Starr and Leigh Remizowski contributed to this report.

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