By Bert Eljera
OCA and the Asian American Justice Center on Wednesday, Nov. 28, issued a statement calling the reprimand and demotion of rank for Staff Sgt. Andrew Van Bockel “shocking” and a “disgrace” to our military’s values.
Following a court martial, Van Bockel was found guilty of hazing, three charges of dereliction of duty and two charges of maltreatment, in the death of Pvt. Danny Chen, who killed himself in Oct. 2011 in Afghanistan following weeks of bullying and abuse.
In the trial, prosecutors successfully proved that the abuse and maltreatment directly led to Chen, a 19-year-old raised in New York’s Chinatown, taking his own life.
If the maximum penalty were imposed, Van Bockel could have gotten four years and nine months in prison and a dishonorable discharge.
Instead, he was given a reprimand, a demotion in two ranks to specialist and 60 days of hard labor—45 already credited—with no jail time, and can continue serving in the Army.
“Our community is truly shocked and saddened by the lack of accountability that has emerged from this trial,” said Tom Hayashi, executive director of OCA.
“The gross negligence of Staff Sgt. Van Bockel was simply unacceptable and the sentencing is a disgrace to our military’s values. This trial is a strong indication that we must push for stronger reforms in our advocacy efforts.”
Van Bockel was considered the ‘ring leader’ of the hazing, which included racial slurs, rock throwing, kicking, and dragging Chen along rocks.
Chen was subjected to taunts, such as “Dragon Lady” and “Fortune Cookie” and was ordered to shout orders in Chinese to his own English-speaking platoon to humiliate him.
“The tragic mistreatment of Pvt. Chen merits much more severe consequences than the ones that have thus far been handed down to Staff Sgt. Van Bockel and others in their unit,” said Mee Moua, president and executive director of AAJC.
“These sentences fail to deter the kind of treatment that cost Danny his life, and send a weak message about the level of accountability and leadership to which soldiers at their levels will be held.”
Six other soldiers have been convicted of charges of hazing, maltreatment or dereliction of duty in connection with Chen’s death.
In August, a military court acquitted another Army sergeant, Adam M. Holcomb , who was charged with negligent homicide, reckless endangerment, and threats and hazing.
He was sentenced to 30 days in prison, reduction of one rank, to specialist, and a fine of $1,181.55.
Chen shot himself Oct. 3 in a guard tower on a remote Army outpost in Kandahar province in Afghanistan after what military prosecutors said was a campaign of humiliation by fellow soldiers.
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