- Associated Press - Sunday, January 15, 2012

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — An American soldier charged with abuse that led to the suicide of a 19-year-old fellow soldier in Afghanistan is facing a preliminary hearing Sunday on a base in the country, the U.S. military said.

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 been in Afghanistan for only 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, pushups, 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 will determine whether Spc. Offutt faces court-martial. It was unclear how many days the hearing 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 is being held at Kandahar Air Field, the sprawling base for U.S. and NATO operations in the south.

Chen’s family and Chinese community members in New York have called for legal proceedings related to his death to be held in the United States so they could witness them.

Spc. Offutt’s mother, Carol Tate of Sharon, Pa., told the Sharon Herald last month that she has spoken to her son and thought there were other factors that have not been made public, but she declined further comment.

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.

The NATO-led force also said two service members in southern Afghanistan died Sunday of injuries that were not battle-related.

A coalition statement did not say whether the injuries were the result of an accident, suicide or other causes, and it did not provide the troops’ nationalities.

Sunday’s deaths bring to 16 the number of coalition troops who have died in Afghanistan this month.

On Saturday, a roadside bomb killed two Afghan police officers as they were driving home in the eastern province of Khost, provincial police Chief Sardar Mohammad Zazia said.

Both officers were members of a counternarcotics squad, he said. Khost lies along the border with Pakistan’s lawless northwestern tribal region and is a stronghold of the al-Qaeda-allied Haqqani network.

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