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BY ALINE REYNOLDS | Community advocates and family members of Private Danny Chen are railing against the Army’s preliminary suggestion that Specialist Ryan Offutt’s manslaughter charge be dismissed.
The Article 32 military hearing of Offutt, one of eight American soldiers facing criminal charges in the East Village private’s Oct. 3 death in Afghanistan, concluded on Mon., Jan. 23 — coincidentally, the start of the Chinese Lunar New Year. The Army’s investigating officer recommended forwarding all of Offutt’s charges, which range from negligent homicide to reckless endangerment and dereliction of duty, to a court-martial, with one exception.
“In this case, the investigating officer recommends that the involuntary manslaughter charge be dropped,” said George Wright, an Army spokesperson.
The recommendation, however, does not guarantee the dismissal of the charge, Wright noted.
“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 multistep process, Wright noted, is designed to protect the rights of the accused.
This explanation was of little consolation to Chen’s family, friends and members of the New York Chapter of OCA (Organization for Chinese Americans), a leading advocate in the Chen case since military investigations of his death began in the fall.
“It is not enough,” said Banny Chen, the private’s cousin, 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 10-year-maximum prison sentence,” OuYang said. “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 that’s unlikely.
“Our rules do permit closed-circuit video or audio transmission in very limited circumstances as determined by the judge,” he said. “But the Army typically doesn’t record or broadcast Article 32 hearings or courts-martial.”
Councilmember Margaret Chin also expressed her dissatisfaction with the latest development. “This is only a recommendation regarding one charge against one soldier,” she said. “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 said. “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.”
Asked for an update on the location of the soldiers’ possible trials, 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.”