By Wade Rawlins ,Reuters
FORT BRAGG, North Carolina — A Chinese-American soldier in Afghanistan was forced to crawl about 50 yards as punishment while his superiors yelled and hurled rocks at him hours before he took his own life, a fellow soldier testified on Friday in a court-martial hearing. Private Danny Chen killed himself by a gunshot in a guard tower in southern Afghanistan last October.
One of his superiors, Sergeant Adam Holcomb, is standing trial in Fort Bragg on allegations his physical mistreatment and racial harassment pushed Chen to commit suicide.
Holcomb, 30, has pleaded not guilty and faces nearly 18 years of confinement and a dishonorable discharge if convicted on charges that include negligent homicide. On Friday, Holcomb’s defense lawyers called a dozen witnesses in an attempt to shift the focus from his conduct to what some described as Chen’s shortcomings as a soldier.
The soldiers described harsh conditions at the remote combat outpost where stress ran high, politically incorrect nicknames were used and soldiers endured physical discipline when they failed to measure up. A service member who served with Chen, Specialist Nicholas Sepeda, said Chen was not physically fit when he arrived in Afghanistan and their superiors frequently put him through “corrective training” involving push-ups, squats and other harsher measures.
He described the scene of Chen being forced to crawl to a guard tower while several noncommissioned officers threw rocks at him and yelled, “Incoming!” “I didn’t think it was right they were throwing rocks at him,” Sepeda said. On one occasion, Holcomb pulled Chen out of his bunk and dragged him across sharp rocks, lacerating his back, Sepeda said. Sepeda took photographs of the injuries.
“He was treated like dirt, wasn’t he?” a military prosecutor asked Sepeda on cross-examination. “Yes he was,” Sepeda replied. But Sepeda said noncommissioned officers at the outpost disciplined or “smoked” other solders, including himself.
Sepeda said he did not think Chen was targeted for harassment as much as he initially thought immediately after Chen’s suicide.