U.S. soldier faces hearing over suicide

KABUL, AFGHANISTANAn American soldier charged with abuse that led to the suicide of a 19-year-old fellow soldier in Afghanistan faced a preliminary hearing Sunday on a base in the country, the U.S. military said.

Army Spc. Ryan J. Offutt is charged with offenses including maltreatment, assault, involuntary manslaughter and negligent homicide in the death of Pvt. Danny Chen, the military said in a statement. Spc. Offutt is one of eight infantrymen charged in connection with the suicide.

Chen shot himself in a guardhouse Oct. 3 in Afghanistan after what investigators say were weeks of racial slurs, humiliation and physical abuse.

Spc. Offutt, 32, of Greenville, Pa., was charged in December along with seven others in the same unit. He joined the Army in 2006 and served 14 months in Iraq before being deployed to Afghanistan.

An attorney for Spc. Offutt could not immediately be contacted.

Chen, a native New Yorker of Chinese descent, had only been in Afghanistan for two months when he killed himself. He had told relatives he endured weeks of racial teasing and name calling while in training in the U.S.

After arriving in Afghanistan, investigators said, Chen was subjected to hazing by members of his unit, the 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division based in Fort Wainwright, Alaska.

Chen’s family has said investigators told them that, at a remote base in southern Afghanistan, he was subjected to racial slurs and forced to do excessive sit-ups, push-ups, runs and sprints carrying sandbags.

On the day of his death, he had reported to the guard tower without his helmet or adequate water and was forced to crawl about 100 yards across gravel carrying his equipment as his comrades threw rocks at him, a family representative has quoted investigators as saying.

Sunday’s hearing under Article 32 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice was to determine whether Spc. Offutt would face court-martial. It was unclear how many days it will take. The process allows for cross-examining of any witnesses.

The two most serious charges, involuntary manslaughter and negligent homicide, carry prison sentences of up to 10 years and three years, respectively.

The hearing was held at Kandahar Air Field, the sprawling base for U.S. and NATO operations in the south.

The Army has identified the other soldiers charged as 1st Lt. Daniel J. Schwartz, 25, of Maryland (no hometown was given); Staff Sgt. Blaine G. Dugas, 35, of Port Arthur, Texas; Staff Sgt. Andrew J. Van Bockel, 26, of Aberdeen, S.D.; Sgt. Adam M. Holcomb, 29, of Youngstown, Ohio; Sgt. Jeffrey T. Hurst, 26, of Brooklyn, Iowa; Spc. Thomas P. Curtis, 25, of Hendersonville, Tenn; and Sgt. Travis F. Carden, 24, of Fowler, Ind.

Sgt. Van Bockel, Sgt. Holcomb, Sgt. Hurst, Spc. Curtis and Spc. Offutt were charged with the most serious offenses, including involuntary manslaughter, negligent homicide, and assault and battery.

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