By Bert Eljera
LAS VEGAS – Asian Pacific American civil rights organizations have decided to pursue reforms in the military, instead of seeking justice through the military courts, in a case involving the hazing-death of a young Chinese-American soldier.
In a statement on Thursday, Dec. 20, the OCA and the Asian American Justice Center (AAJC) said they are supporting the decision to drop charges against the eighth and last soldier charged with the death of 19-year-old Danny Chen in Afghanistan in 2011.
Chen, an Army private who grew up in New York’s Chinatown, shot himself in an outpost in Kandahar after being subjected to racially-tinged hazing, insults and slurs from his fellow soldiers and unit superiors.
Eight Army soldiers were charged after a military investigation, but while the hazing incidents were proven in military court, the sentences were considered “light,” which included mostly demotion in rank and fines.
First Lt. Daniel Schwartz, Chen’s platoon leader, was the last to be tried, but prosecutors on Monday, Dec. 17, accepted a defense request for a non-judicial punishment.
With the deal, Schwartz avoided trial, and will be discharged from the U.S. Army through an administrative process.
“There have been too many cases of military hazing, and we must have reforms that protect those vulnerable to hazing in our armed forces,” said Mee Moua, president and executive director of AAJC in the statement released Thursday.
“Policy makers must act on the lessons learned from these tragedies to implement policies that are strong, comprehensive, and that send a clear message that harassment and abuse of service members will be met with serious consequences,” he said.
Schwartz’s dismissal came after the seven courts-martial of other members of the unit that included convictions of maltreatment, hazing, dereliction of duty and assault.
However, the punishments ranged from demotions in rank, forfeited pay, restricted hard labor and jail sentences of up to six months. Only one soldier received a discharge for bad conduct.
“Such punishments are too light and reflect a significant void in our military justice system,” said Tom Hayashi, executive director of OCA. “New legislative regulations on hazing can help ensure the safety of all men and women in uniform.”
In the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), an amendment has been included to address the issue of hazing in the military.
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