New details are emerging about the death of Pvt. Danny Chen, 19, who was found dead in a guard tower in Afghanistan last October. A military statement called the death “an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound” to the head but new details released to the family on Wednesday included stories of violent hazing and racist bullying that may have led Chen to suicide.
The family learned of the new details – which they said were in the fullest account yet of what happened to their son – in a three-hour briefing on Wednesday with Army officials. The family shared details the following day at a press conference in Chen’s old neighborhood, New York City’s Chinatown.
Below New York Magazine recounts some of the taunting endured by Chen, it includes some recent details from Thursday’s press conference:
When he arrived, Chen was at the bottom of the social hierarchy: a newcomer to his unit, a lowly private, still just a teenager, in a combat zone for the first time. And the only Chinese-American in his platoon. In a meeting with Chen’s parents on January 4, Army officials said that his superiors had considered him not fit enough when he arrived, and singled him out for excessive physical exercise: push-ups, flutter-kicks, sit-ups, sprints done while carrying a sandbag. Such punishments resemble the “smokings” that drill sergeants mete out at basic training to correct mistakes. But, in Chen’s case, it wasn’t long before this campaign of “corrective training” escalated into sheer brutality.
The eight men later charged in connection with his death are all white and range in age from 24 to 35; they include one lieutenant, two staff sergeants, three sergeants, and two specialists. Members of this group allegedly harassed and humiliated Chen from almost the day he arrived at The Palace. They belittled him with racial slurs. They forced him to do push-ups with a mouthful of water, refusing to let him swallow or spit any out. And, on September 27, a sergeant allegedly yanked him out of bed and dragged him across about 50 yards of gravel toward a shower trailer as punishment for supposedly breaking the hot-water pump. He endured bruises and cuts on his back. Army officials told Chen’s family that although the leader of his platoon found out about this incident, he never reported it as he was required to.
In a statement to the NY Times, George B. Wright, an Army spokesman, noted that there had been “regulations and policies against hazing and bullying for some time.”
“The Army is a values-based organization. We inculcate our soldiers with the need to treat all with dignity and respect,” Wright went on to say. “We enforce standards, and when our soldiers fail to meet those standards, we take appropriate action.”
The family’s lawyer did most of the speaking at Thursday’s conference, but the NY Times reported Private Chen’s mother, Su Zhen Chen, said through an interpreter that she thought that “the pain would subside, but it has not.”
Chen joined the Army in January 2011, against his mother’s wishes, and planned on returning to New York City to serve with the New York Police Department.