Angst over possible dismissal in Chen case

BY ALINE REYNOLDS  |  Community advocates and family members of U.S. Army Private Danny Chen are railing against a preliminary suggestion by the Army that involuntary manslaughter, the most serious charge against Specialist Ryan Offutt, be dismissed.

The Article 32 military hearing of Offutt, one of eight American soldiers who face criminal charges tied to Chen’s Oct. 3 death in Afghanistan, concluded on Monday, Jan. 23. The Army’s investigating officer proceeded to recommend forwarding all of Offutt’s charges, which range from negligent homicide to reckless endangerment to dereliction of duty, to a court-martial, with one exception.

The funeral procession for U.S. Army Private Danny Chen on Oct. 13, 2011, brought hundreds of mourners into the streets of Chinatown.

“In this case, the investigating officer recommends that the involuntary manslaughter charge be dropped,” according to Amy Spokesperson George Wright.

The recommendation, however, does not guarantee the dismissal of the charge, Wright said. “Under the Uniform Code of Military Justice,” he explained, “a superior command could still send the charge to trial but could also follow the recommendation and dismiss the charge.” The multi-step, multi-player procedure, Wright noted, is designed to protect the rights of the accused.

This explanation was of little consolation to Chen’s family, friends, and OCA’s (Organization for Chinese Americans) New York chapter, a leading advocate in the Chen case.

“It is not enough,” said Chen’s cousin, Banny Chen, on behalf of the soldier’s family. “Offutt and all the suspects should be tried on the maximum charges possible because of what they did to Danny.”

Elizabeth R. OuYang, president of OCA-NY, said the community is  “extremely” disappointed that Offutt might not be tried for manslaughter, and continues to urge the Army to prosecute the suspects to the greatest extent possible.

“There is a big difference between a three-year and a ten-year maximum prison sentence,” said OuYang. “We hope that all the charges will be recommended for the remaining seven suspects, including those who have been initially charged with involuntary manslaughter.”

OuYang and other advocates are also requesting that the Army televise the Afghanistan-based hearings for the remaining suspects, which begin on Mon., Feb. 6. Wright, however, said the request would likely be denied.

“Our rules do permit closed-circuit video or audio transmission in very limited circumstances as determined by the judge,” said Wright, “but the Army typically doesn’t record or broadcast Article 32 hearings or court-martials.”

While NYC Councilmember Margaret Chin also expressed her dissatisfaction, she said, “This is only a recommendation regarding one charge against one soldier. I am hopeful that this recommendation will be ignored and that the charges in the other cases will be upheld.”

“Investigators have confirmed that Private Chen was a victim of egregious maltreatment prior to his death,” Chin continued. “If the Army has zero tolerance for bullying and hazing, as they claim to, then they need to prosecute these eight individuals to the fullest extent of the law.”

The Councilmember is holding a hearing Fri., Jan. 27 at 10 a.m. at 250 Broadway on the resolution she introduced to the Council earlier this month urging the U.S. Department of Defense to scrutinize the Army’s cultural diversity training for its soldiers.

Wright said the Army has responded to the community’s list of previously asked questions about its training policies. Neither the questions nor answers were immediately available to the press.

Asked for an update on the location of the anticipated trials of the soldiers, Wright said, “It’s something procedurally we’re not ready to discuss yet, because the Court-Martial Convening Authority has yet to rule on whether or not the trials will or will not take place.”



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