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BY ALINE REYNOLDS | The first of eight soldiers implicated in the apparent suicide of 19-year-old Army Private Danny Chen will be tried in military court beginning in early April.
Sergeant Travis Carden, 25, from Fowler, Indiana, will appear before a general court-martial, the highest level of military court, to face charges of violating lawful general regulation, maltreatment and assault. The trial will be held at Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan, close to where Chen was deployed at the time of his death.
Article 32 hearings of the seven other soldiers have also been completed, and their trials will be scheduled once their charges are formally referred to a court-martial.
While Chen’s family and advocates were pleased to hear the news, they’re still adamantly demanding that the army to hold the trials on U.S. soil. The Army is holding Carden’s trial in Afghanistan because that is where Chen’s unit was deployed and continues to serve, according to Army Spokesperson George Wright. The military, he said, has yet to determine the location for the other trials.
“The goal is to conduct a fair and speedy trial,” said Wright. “Because Afghanistan is where the witnesses are, that’s where the first case will be tried. When Chen’s unit redeploys to its home base in April, any unresolved legal matters will have to be resolved where that unit is, which is Alaska.”
Elizabeth OuYang, president of the New York chapter of the Organization of Chinese Americans (OCA-NY), the group leading the effort in the Chen case, has sent a letter to Commanding General James L. Huggins, Jr. requesting that the trials be held in Alaska, where Chen was based prior to deployment, and is launching a nationwide campaign to bolster the plea. In an effort to sway the Army’s decision to hold Carden’s trial in Afghanistan, the advocacy group has posted videos on YouTube and solicited more than 1,300 signatures on the organization’s website, and is pointing to the fact that trials tied to the suicide of late U.S. Marine Harry Lew while he was stationed in Afghanistan, are being held in Hawaii where his unit was domestically based.
“The community is disillusioned; there’s a great deal of distrust,” said OuYang. “The only way to regain that trust… is to have a transparent process by having these trials in the U.S.”
The Army has advised the family against traveling to Afghanistan for the trials because it is too dangerous, according to OuYang.
“The family needs to participate in these trials — they will go to Alaska, but not to Afghanistan,” she said.
Councilmember Margaret Chin also criticized the Army’s initial recommendation to drop charges made against four of the five soldiers of involuntary manslaughter, which also carries a maximum prison sentence of 10 years. These soldiers have also been charged with negligent homicide, which entails only three-and-a-half years of jail time.
“The army is saying these individuals did not intent to kill or injure Danny, that they’re not culpable,” said OuYang. “We know this is not true, and that repeated action and assault by these soldiers caused Danny’s death.”
“It’s not right for me to make a judgment at this time if [the charges] are right or wrong,” said Danny Chen’s father, Yan Tao Chen. “We hope the Army and prosecutors do the utmost to bring the case to a rightful conclusion.”
Carden’s trial is set to begin April 4. If convicted, Carden could face maximum punishments ranging from demotion, expulsion from the Army or a six-and-a-half year jail sentence.
The forwarding of Carden’s charges to court shows a “good-faith effort” by the Army to move these cases forward, OuYang said last week.
As part of OCA-NY’s national campaign, OuYang will be organizing workshops and panel discussions at universities around the northeast including Yale Law School and Boston University to publicize Chen’s case, garner more support for the domestic setting of the trials and educate college students about hazing in the armed forces.
“Everywhere we go, whether we talk about this case in New York or California, we are bringing this banner, ‘We are Danny,’ [so that people can] sign it and express their thoughts about this case,” said OuYang.