Ippies Highlight: Breaking the Story of Pvt. Danny Chen’s Alleged Bullying

To showcase the best New York City journalism in languages other than English published last year, Voices of NY is running translations of articles that won Ippies at last week’s gala

This exclusive report by Jacky Tik Wong was published on Oct. 10, 2011 at the Chinese-language publication, Sing Tao Daily. The article won second place for Best investigative/in-depth story at the 2012 Ippies Awards. Below is a translation provided by Sing Tao Daily.

Private Danny Chen Allegedly Subjected to Physical Abuse and Racial Taunting before Death

Merely two months after his deployment to Kandahar, Afghanistan, the body of a 19-year old Private Danny Chen returned home yesterday (Oct 9th, 2011) to New York, Chinatown in Manhattan, where he was born and raised.  The military had since been silent in making an official announcement on his cause of death.  Nevertheless, according to family members, military officials had confirmed with them that Private Chen was subject to physical abuse and racial taunting before his death.  Devastated and confused, Chen’s family screamed in pain over the viewing of Chen’s body; and they also cried out to the authority for a thorough investigation to reveal the truth.

Private Chen died in an army outpost on Oct 3rd 2011.  The military had delayed the announcement on the cause of death.  More suspiciously, all levels of government, ranging from the federal and the state and to the city, had invariably extended the highest acclaim and honor to Private Chen, and assigned the most prestigious protocol to receive Chen’s family.  All such undertakings seemed to be specifically arranged to serve a purpose, i.e.to commission a more honorable tribute to the departure of Private Chen than to those military members killed in action on the battle fields.   The unusually sublime form of arrangement raised curiosity as well as suspicion of the family and the community in time of sadness.

In their first comments after viewing the casket, the family contended that the military had met them the day before for a briefing.  The officials revealed that Private Chen died on a tower in the military base.  The officials also confirmed two things: Private Chen had been physically abused by six supervisors only because he forgot to turn off the hot water heater.  He had allegedly been dragged out of his bed and across the floor until his suffered serious cuts and scratches on his back; secondly, his had been humiliated with racial slurs.

Danny Chen's family (Photo from Sing Tao)

The mother of Private Chen, Su Zhen Chen broke down in tears as she saw that her once lively, cheerful and good-looking boy now lied in casket as a stiff and unresponsive corpse.  She kept screaming “Oh, my boy, my son, Mom and Dad are here now……”  The father of Private Chen, who was very close to his son, had to compose himself from the unspeakable pain as he touched the frozen cheek of his son; he looked carefully at a small, apparently repaired hole at Private Chen’s low jaw where a bullet had penetrated.

The case is now under investigation by the USA Army Criminal Command.  Chris Grey, Director of Public Information of the command, had indicated last week that since it was an ongoing investigation, there would be no further detail available at this time.  At present, the army was following the procedure of murder investigation to find out the cause of death, and they would not dismiss the possibility of suicide.

“We can accept the fact of his death, but we cannot appreciate an inconclusive determination.  We are asking for the true picture,” said an uncle of Private Chen.  Margaret Chin, a New York City councilwoman, was also present at the airport to receive the body of Private Chen.  She noted that she already knew that the circumstances surrounding Chen’s death was something other than usual. Ms. Chin said she would work through the Mayor’s Office of Veterans’ Affairs to urge the Federal Government to present a report expeditiously on the cause of Chen’s death.  Should the matter be determined to have involved with racial discrimination, Chin pledged that she would not rest until the culprits were caught and justice was done.

One thing is sure for now — Private Chen was shot to death in a barrack.  However, it is still unknown as to how he died.  Was it suicide because he was unable to withstand abuse and torture?  Or was he murdered?  Or did he just die for a third and unknown reason?  The key might lie in a laptop computer Private Chen had used during his lifetime.  The Army was yet to return the personal belongings of Private Chen to the family; now all eyes are focused on the Army as to how the authority would make use of the information retrieved from the computer.

Given all such undertakings, the family and friends of Private Chen still found it hard to believe that the young man would commit suicide.  “He was very good in standing up to the hardship.  He sustained bad injuries in two of his toenails during his training in Georgia; the toenails turned blue and fell off.  I felt very bad for him and I asked if that hurt.  He just smiled and said it was fine with him,” said May, a second cousin.  In addition, some of his classmates in high school and junior high school revisited the records of dialogue with him on Facebook just a few days before the tragedy; they all agreed that Chen was very much cheerful and optimistic just prior to his death.

“We are a country.  He had this one single important commitment in his mind: to do something for his country.  Now the commitment was tarnished; I just cannot see how we could continue the fighting?  I just want to caution all parents not to casually allow their children to join military service.  You must give some hard thinking about the racial discrimination in the army.  The tragedy of our family should never repeat in all other families, “complained Melissa, an aunt.

Not long ago, a similar tragedy happened to a nephew of Judy Chu, a U.S. Congresswoman from California.  Private Harry Lew, 21, of U. S. Marines, was sent to a base in Helmand, Afghanistan early last year.  On Apr 2nd, 2011, he was found to have dozed on duty, to the rages of his two supervisors.  They ordered him to do an excessive number of push-ups, stomped his legs and kicked sand all over him.  Private Lew could not withstand the abuse and he shot himself on the head that night.  He wrote on his arm, before he killed himself, that “As for the suicide, perhaps someone would hate me now; but in the long-run it would be a right choice.  I am sorry, but my mother would have the right to know the truth.”  The two supervisors are now facing court-marshal.


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