POSTED: 4:46 a.m. HST, Jan 24, 2012
KABUL, Afghanistan >> An investigative hearing has recommended that an American soldier be court-martialed over hazing that allegedly led to a fellow infantryman’s suicide in Afghanistan but dismissed the most serious charge against him, the U.S. military said Monday.
Spc. Ryan Offutt is one of eight soldiers charged in the death of 19-year-old Pvt. Danny Chen, who shot himself on Oct. 3 after what investigators say were weeks of physical abuse, humiliation and racial slurs.
A native New Yorker of Chinese descent, Chen had been in Afghanistan only two months when he shot himself in a guardhouse at a remote outpost in Afghanistan’s Kandahar province. His family has said investigators told them that he was subjected to racial slurs and forced to do excessive sit-ups, push-ups, runs and sprints carrying sandbags.
Chen’s family members said Monday that they were upset that the most serious charge, involuntary manslaughter, was set aside.
The investigative hearing recommended that Offutt, 32, be court-martialed on charges including assault, negligent homicide, and reckless endangerment, a statement from U.S. military said. The hearing ended Sunday at Kandahar Air Field, the sprawling base for U.S. and NATO operations in the south.
The panel, however, did not recommend trial for an additional charge of involuntary manslaughter, punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
The most serious charge Offutt now faces is negligent homicide, which carries a prison sentence of up to three years.
The regional American military commander will make a final decision on any court-martial based on the hearing’s recommendations, the U.S. statement said.
Attorneys for Offutt could not immediately be contacted. Offutt, a native of Greenville, Pa., joined the Army in 2006 and served 14 months in Iraq before being deployed to Afghanistan.
Chen’s cousin, Banny Chen, said his family is dismayed that the hearing did not recommend trial for Offutt on the manslaughter charge.
“It is not enough. He and all the suspects should be tried on the maximum charges possible because of what they did to Danny,” Banny Chen said.
Under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the basis of an involuntary manslaughter charge “may be a negligent act or omission which, when viewed in the light of human experience, might foreseeably result in the death of another, even though death would not necessarily be a natural and probable consequence of the act or omission.”
Elizabeth Ouyang, president of the New York chapter of the Organization of Chinese Americans, repeated calls for the military hearings to be held in the U.S. instead of Afghanistan, so the family could witness them. Activists have said Chen’s case has raised questions about the military’s treatment of its tiny Asian-American minority.
Seven other members of Chen’s Army unit are scheduled to face similar investigative hearings over the next month at Kandahar.
The Army has identified the other soldiers charged as 1st Lt. Daniel J. Schwartz, 25, of Maryland (no hometown was given); Staff Sgt. Blaine G. Dugas, 35, of Port Arthur, Texas; Staff Sgt. Andrew J. Van Bockel, 26, of Aberdeen, S.D.; Sgt. Adam M. Holcomb, 29, of Youngstown, Ohio; Sgt. Jeffrey T. Hurst, 26, of Brooklyn, Iowa; Spc. Thomas P. Curtis, 25, of Hendersonville, Tenn; and Sgt. Travis F. Carden, 24, of Fowler, Ind.
All are members of the 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division based out of Fort Wainwright, Alaska.
Associated Press writer Deepti Hajela in New York contributed to this report.