REPORTING FROM KABUL, AFGHANISTAN -- A U.S. military investigator has called for the court-martial of four American troops accused of bullying and abusing a fellow Army soldier who then apparently shot and killed himself, the NATO force announced Tuesday.
The recommendation that formal charges be brought against the four comes after weeks of pretrial hearings held at Kandahar airfield, NATO's main base in the south of Afghanistan. They are accused of driving Pvt. Danny Chen to suicide with a pattern of hazing that ranged from racial taunts to physical punishments that included being hung upside down.
Chen, a 19-year-old New Yorker, was found dead in a guard tower at his combat outpost in Kandahar province on Oct. 3, the victim of an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound. Some family members have questioned whether his death was a suicide.
The charges against the four range in seriousness from maltreatment and dereliction of duty to assault and negligent homicide. The investigator's findings will be put before the brigade commander, who in turn is to make his recommendation to the commander of the task force in which they served.
The four to be recommended for court-martial were identified by military officials as Staff Sgt. Andrew VanBockel; Sgt. Jeffrey Hurst; Sgt. Adam Holcomb and Spc. Thomas Curtis.
Of four others accused in the case, one, Sgt. Travis Carden, is to be court-martialed next month. The brigade commander's decision is pending in the cases of two others, 1st Lt. Daniel Schwartz and Spc. Ryan Offut. The military investigator has not yet made a recommendation regarding a final soldier, Staff Sgt. Blaine Dugas, in the wake of his pretrial hearing, known in the military as an Article 32 proceeding.
All of the accused, along with Chen, were deployed to Kandahar with the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team.
-- Laura King
Photo: Pvt. Danny Chen. Credit: U.S. Army / Associated Press