Politicians Call on Army to Review Hazing and Harassment Policies Following Death of Danny Chen (UPDATED)


This week, elected officials are calling on the U.S. Army to conduct a comprehensive review of hazing incidents and training in response to the death of Private Danny Chen, a teenager from Chinatown. Chen, 19, was found dead in October in Afghanistan from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. His death has raised questions about Army practices and culture, and some local electeds have been speaking out about the incident.

In the latest development, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Nydia Velazquez — who represents parts of Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Queens — today called on the Army to review the way it tracks hazing and harassment incidents as well as its anti-hazing training. Along with Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA) and Mike Honda (D-CA), the pols sent a letter requesting details on what current measures are in place for soldiers in remote bases to report hazing incidents.

Last month, Gillibrand also called on the Defense Department to implement a system-wide review of bullying and mistreatment — and her office says the Department is expected to provide a briefing in the next few weeks.

The letter asks the Army a series of questions about its current policies and procedures related to these kinds of incidents. In connection to Chen’s death, eight soldiers are facing charges from dereliction of duty to involuntary manslaughter.

See the full letter below:

Dear Secretary McHugh:

As you know, in October 2011, Private Danny Chen was found dead at his Combat Outpost (COP) apparently of a self-inflicted wound. We are very concerned about the reports of the constant hazing, apparently mixed with racial slurs, and other mistreatment by his fellow soldiers and his direct superiors. We know you share our concern and take this issue very seriously, and we support the guidance issued in your hazing memo on January 13, 2012. Our men and women in uniform deserve to serve in a supportive environment from their fellow soldiers as they put their lives on the line for our country. Hazing and harassment undermine the discipline that is fundamental to keeping America’s Army the best in the world.

We appreciate the Army’s briefings to our offices on this case and the broader questions regarding anti-hazing policies, and the internal investigations of this incident. However in light of this shocking incident, we would like to better understand the education and training process that are provided to Army soldiers and recruits regarding hazing and harassment among the force, as well as the repercussions and disciplinary measures taken in such incidents. To that end, we would appreciate receiving answers to the following questions:

1. Does the Army track reports of hazing? If so, we would like to know how many incidents of hazing occurred in the Army during 2011? How many incidents of hazing occurred in the Army during the last five years?

2. We understand that Army Command Policy AR 600-20 outlines the anti-hazing rules for the service. When is the last time that policy was reviewed and/or updated?

3. We also understand that the anti-hazing regulations are punitive, per AR 600-20 Chp 4-9 paragraph 3d. In the past 5 years, have there been punitive charges brought up against any Army Soldier under this provision?

4. We likewise heard from some of the briefers that AR 600-20 is part of both basic and pre-deployment training. Does the Army highlight this issue in its training? Is it part of and/or highlighted in leadership training? Is this an issue under review in light of the Chen case? It would be helpful to receive training materials so we can understand how this issue is presented during training.

5. How does the Army document and substantiate the effectiveness of the hazing and harassment education and training that is provided? Is it specifically highlighted in command climate surveys?

6. Do commanding officers provide any reports about hazing or other harassment incidents up their chain of command, through the Inspector General or other means, regardless of what action they determine should be taken?

7. What is the avenue for reporting of hazing or other harassment outside the immediate commander in cases where the commander is implicated in the harassment? What systems are in place for Soldiers deployed to remote bases to report cases of hazing or harassment when their chain of command is implicated?

8. What is the Army’s policy for handling units where there is a series of hazing incidents? Are there such cases in the past five years?

9. What is the dividing line between corrective training and prohibited hazing? Who is allowed to impose corrective training and what are Army soldiers taught about corrective training?

10. How are education, training programs, and policies modified or adapted to meet changing requirements based on the effectiveness of the programs? Are climate surveys used to incorporate any necessary changes?

We appreciate your immediate attention to this request, and we look forward to hearing from you.

Update: WNYC has a post about the soldiers in question in this case. They are reporting that a U.S. military hearing has recommended that Spc. Ryan Offutt, one of the eight soldiers charged in the death of Chen, be court-martialed. The U.S. military today, according to the article, said he is facing 11 charges, including assault, negligent homicide, and reckless endangerment. Runnin’ Scared has also reached out to an Army spokesperson for a response to the electeds’ letter, and we’ll update when we hear back.

Update 2, 3:10 p.m: Runnin’ Scared just got in touch with George Wright, Army spokesperson at the Pentagon. He said that the army has received the letter from the politicians, and added, “We certainly take issues such as hazing and bullying seriously. That’s contrary to Army values. We’re going to review the senator’s letter with all the seriousness that it deserves.” He also confirmed that Spc. Ryan Offutt’s case came to a close yesterday and that the investigating officer for the hearing recommended that all charges — except for a manslaughter charge — be forwarded to a court-martial. Those include charges of violation of a lawful general regulation, maltreatment, assault, negligent homicide, and reckless endangerment.