Since the tragic death of 19-year-old Pvt. Danny Chen in Afghanistan October 3rd, not only have his grieving parents lost their only child, they've also lost their right to justice. When army officials first informed Chen's parents of his death by apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound, they provided no answers, no clues as to why or how this happened. His family had to fight for answers by working with the Organization of Chinese Americans New York Chapter to launch a grassroots campaign "What Happened to Private Danny Chen." Only then was it revealed that Chen had allegedly been subjected to daily torture for more than six weeks, including racial slurs, physical hazing, and excessive exercises. Only after his story was told, and pressure mounted, did the army announce charges against eight soldiers in connection with his death.
Now his family must fight for justice yet again as the army plans to hold the courts-martial in a military court in Afghanistan. The army's investigation and subsequent hearings have been shrouded in secrecy and I am appalled that his family has not been given access to see what is going on in these hearings thus far. They are merely handed the results, like the result Tuesday that the army has dropped the most serious charge, involuntary manslaughter, against the soldiers, after reviewing evidence at a hearing in Afghanistan Monday.
"We don't just want to be given the results," said Chen's cousin Banny in a press conference Tuesday. "We want to know what happened."
The first court-martial, of Sgt. Travis Carden, who is charged with maltreatment, assault and reckless endangerment, is set for April 4th in a military court in Afghanistan. Yet, the location of the courts-martial of the other soldiers hasn't been set. For the sake of justice for Chen's family, it is only fair for the army to hold the rest in the United States. His family has been through hell and back. The army can at least give them the courtesy to face their son's alleged torturers and finally get some answers. After all they have been through his family deserves the opportunity to get some closure by witnessing these hearings firsthand.
I urge you to sign this petition, created by the Organization of Chinese Americans New York Chapter, demanding the army schedule the rest of the courts-martial in the United States.
"Because of the suspicious nature of Danny's death and the army's history, we demand greater transparency," reads the petition. "It is only just for those charged to face the community that Danny belonged to and for which he was singled out. Danny's parents must be able to see and ask those who were responsible for the death of their only child, "Why did you do this to our son?"
The president of the organization says while the courts-martial will likely be held in Alaska if moved to the U.S., the Chens would be willing to travel there for the chance to observe and participate.
"Chen's parents should not have to travel thousands of miles overseas and potentially relive the trauma of their son's death in order to have access to these proceedings," read an editorial in the Downtown Express. "The family has suffered enormously and witnessing justice, even from afar, might provide some solace and closure."
So please join me in signing the petition and spreading the word to demand a call for justice.
Follow Mari Fagel on Twitter: www.twitter.com/MariFagel