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8 soldiers charged in private's 'apparent' suicide in Afghanistan

December 21, 2011 | 11:09 am

Pvt. Danny ChenIn October, Danny Chen, a U.S. Army private from New York City, was found dead in a guard tower in southern Afghanistan. The official statement said he had sustained "an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound."

On Wednesday, the Army announced that eight fellow soldiers have been charged in connection with his death. And a spokeswoman for the Chen family expressed doubts that Chen's death was actually a  suicide.

In naming the men, the Army listed the charges faced by each one and said that more information would be published as it became available. The charges include dereliction of duty, maltreatment, assault and involuntary manslaughter.

At a news conference Wednesday, Chen's mother, Su Zhen Chen, wept as she recalled the day her only child announced that he wanted to enlist in the Army. She said she told him she did not want him to go. But his father, Yan Tao, reasoned that Danny was 18 and should be able to make his own decisions.

After boot camp, Chen was sent to Afghanistan. 

His relatives say his death came after months of physical and mental abuse from fellow soldiers, including being pelted with rocks, forced to hold liquid in his mouth without swallowing, and hearing his name called out in a "goatlike” bleat day after day.

At the news conference in Chinatown, where Chen grew up, Liz OuYang of the Organization of Chinese Americans expressed doubt that Chen had shot himself.

“We are not convinced,” said OuYang, who served as a spokeswoman for Chen’s parents, who do not speak English. She added that it didn’t make a difference who pulled the trigger. “Danny Chen died after this mistreatment. Whether it was suicide or homicide, what they did to him caused his death,” OuYang said of the soldiers charged in the case.

She said the family was skeptical of the suicide claim because Chen had sent messages to friends in the days before his death that did not indicate he was distraught. “Up to a week before his death, friends had received communications from him on Facebook,” she said. “He was laughing.”

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-- Tina Susman in New York

Photo: Pvt. Danny Chen in an undated file photo. Credit: U.S. Army / Associated Press

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