First person account of the trial of Specialist Ryan Offutt–by Mitchell Zhang

Update on Danny Chen: Five of the eight have been tried and sentenced. Special and exclusive to bigWOWO, Mitchell Zhang is a 17-year-old high school senior who attended the military trial of Ryan Offutt, who has received the harshest sentence so far. I was interested in hearing from him because it’s not every day that I hear from a young Asian American who is starting to fight for justice this early in life. When I was 17, I was…well, I was reading Frank Chin, which destroyed my life. :) But we need to do whatever we can to encourage young people to carry on the fight. Props to Mitchell, and please leave comments for him below. Here is his piece:

The courtroom itself wasn’t at all too special. The high paneled walls extended over our heads, six lamps curved like raindrops hung from the walls, and the spectator seats were packed with Asian Americans. There was one main difference though: there was no jury. Only a stoic judge who, in a soft but stern voice, presided over the course of Offutt vs. The United States, the second case prosecuting those who had contributed to the abuse, hazing, and finally, the suicide of Private Danny Chen who was only nineteen years old when he took his own life with his pistol while on guard duty, with the words “Tell my parents I’m sorry” hastily scribbled on his forearm.

Although the meticulously researched evidence stacked up against Specialist Ryan Offutt was beneficial for the prosecution’s argument, the tactics used in the trial were disconcerting. While the defense called upon five witnesses to testify how Specialist Ryan Offutt’s actions deviated from his character that had supposedly existed before his deployment to Afghanistan, to explain how Offutt had to pay child support for his ex-wife, and to elaborate on the less privileged background that he had grown up in, the prosecution focused mainly upon the fact that Chen’s punishments he served were abusive, excessive, and had “no real military purpose.” It was an apt summary of cruel actions which constituted as hazing, but there was no counter to the defense’s claims that Offutt had a life to lead—Private Danny Chen wasn’t even allowed to begin his life due to the actions of his superiors. The court used Danny like a prop, ignoring the human element haunting the entire trial: that a nineteen year old from Manhattan with his future clutched in his grasp had taken his own life. He was instead just another soldier, frequently bullied to the point of exhaustion by a group of men who deserved to be punished for their serious lack of leadership. But as the prosecution stated, in this specific instance Offutt had “add[ed] insult to injury” and “deserves the stigma of a dishonorable conduct discharge.”

Offutt was penalized for his crimes with six months in prison, reduction to E1 (which basically reduces his pay benefits), and a bad conduct discharge, which practically ends any hope of a future military career. In comparison Adam Holcomb, the first man sentenced for Private Danny Chen’s suicide, received only a miniscule fine of roughly one thousand dollars and a month of imprisonment for his more substantial involvement.

While this verdict might seem sufficient, it isn’t enough. It doesn’t reflect the justice that a negligent homicide deserves, but it’s an improvement from the previous trial. It represents a welcome shift in the opinions of both the courts and the media on the case, which gives me hope for the future treatment of Asian Americans in military service and beyond. I envision a world where malicious actions are treated as such, where men take an actively positive leadership role, where a Lord of the Flies-like situation in the military can be quickly and easily addressed with effect policies. But for today, we are left with the likes of Offutt, whose lack of initiative and emotional maturity led to him inflicting his rage upon a Chinese-American nineteen year old cast from home—a man barely older than a boy, lonely and out of his element in the foreign soils of Afghanistan’s most dangerous border.

So what’s the point of this account? Well, for starters, the courts didn’t even begin to take serious action against the offenders until a slight trickle of brief news reports made their way to the local Lafayette papers, eventually reaching the eyes and ears of the New Yorker and Huffington Post. It only took some measly publicity—a smattering of public sympathy (not necessarily that of the Asian-American community) for a more severe sentence to be reached than the slap on the wrist that Holcomb received for hazing a fellow soldier to death. And why did he get away so easily? Perhaps the mainstream media figures that hate crimes against Asians are out of style and won’t sell well—in comparison to extensive coverage of hateful actions homosexuals and other, non-Asian minorities, which is not necessarily a bad thing—but it does put people “like us” in the background in the forum of social issues. So how do we fix a cultural issue such as this? No idea. But blogs like Big WOWO are a great place to start.

60 thoughts on “First person account of the trial of Specialist Ryan Offutt–by Mitchell Zhang

  1. The sentences are so light, don’t be surprised if even MORE Asians are picked on and fragged/hazed to suicide.

    A dishonorable discharge, a small fine and some prison time sure as hell beats the tremendous hazards of an extended, morale sapping tour of duty in the warzones.

    If Asian Americans are satisfied with such verdicts, fool and dupe themselves into patting themselves on the back for this type of result, then don’t be surprised if this will be what defines the level by which Asian Americans are treated for the next decade. You would have sent a message to the world that you do not even have the WILL to fight for what is rightfully yours, even something as basic as justice, fairness, even the right to life.

  2. How do you know Danny Chen “committed suicide?” Dr. Henry Lee was supposed to verify and do a second autopsy report. That never happened. Why? The Chen family is not allowed to get a second opinion nor look at Danny’s diaries. Why?

  3. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Martin Luther King, Jr.

    Mitchell, Thank you!

  4. Great job, this article is well written and very informative! I’m glad some justice came in the end and I’m glad such a good young reporter was able to write account of the trial! Bravo!

  5. Glad “some justice” came in the end… what? Are you trying to troll us?

    A malediction on you!

  6. As an Asian American, I’ll say that our community brings some discrimination on ourselves. Myself and other Asians that were raised in Anglo communities and serve in the military are by and large respected, successful and consistently rated as ‘amongst the best’ on our performance evaluations.

    A lot of Asians live in cloistered neighborhoods (like Chinatowns) and don’t bother to integrate or adopt American customs and traditions or even the language. If you don’t try to integrate and share your culture while adopting the host nation’s culture, then what do you expect? Also, unlike other immigrant groups, Asians raised in Asian communities tend to abhor military service. Well, if you don’t fight for the country (like the Irish, Italians and currently Hispanics), then how do you expect to be accepted?

    You can all hate and call me racist, but from my experience (and I’ve worked all over the country and in the military and out of the military) this is true. I used to be proud because, in NH, we Asian folks work hard to integrate, contribute and be successful and we are generally well liked and respected. Thanks to the big city Chinatowns for ruining that for us and making us look like affirmative action crybabies.

  7. “A lot of Asians live in cloistered neighborhoods (like Chinatowns) and don’t bother to integrate or adopt American customs and traditions or even the language. If you don’t try to integrate and share your culture while adopting the host nation’s culture, then what do you expect?”

    It’s not simple as that. Then on the other spectrum, you have Asians who try very hard to be White. I’m sure you know the issues surrounding this.

  8. @cavscout

    There are a lot of white people that live in China. They have their own expat neighbors. Why don’t they integrate with Chinese society and learn Chinese customs and speak CHINESE?

    The white people keep ruining it for other white people in China.

  9. Here in New York, Italians, Jews, Russians, Irish, Blacks, Polish, as well as many other groups, like to hang out amongst each other. And they have their own neighborhoods too.

    Think Little Italy, Little Poland, Little Odessa. You get the point.

  10. @cavscout

    Why are men in the military likes to sexually assault women so much?

  11. Just out of interest, how many of you who are so critical have actually served in a forward deployed combat unit? How many of you have patrolled in a sector where you can expect to be shot at or blown up at least once a week? How many of you have seen friends get killed in combat and killed others yourself?

    Until you have, you cannot judge us because you have ZERO frame of reference. Having lived in both military and civilian culture, I vastly prefer the military. While there are issues, some are vastly exaggerated.

    Take sexual harassment for example. The military has an option for reporting that allows a victim to report without the fear/anxiety of having to go to trial. This program is often utilized by female soldiers seeking to report the crime but who are afraid/unwilling to go to trial. In civilian society, many of these incidents would go unreported, but the military does report it. Similarly, from experience, I will say that almost 50% of sexual harassment complaints are unfounded. Usually they run along the lines of a female soldier being unhappy that she got yelled at or ‘smoked’ by her Sergeant and making a complaint to try and ‘get back’ at him. Even though these complaints are unfounded, they still go on the statistics as a ‘reported incident’.

    Also, rape and sexual assault are much higher in universities than many schools would like to admit. While the military reports statistics on all assaults that happen on or off duty and on or off base, a civilian university often does not. Many schools do not count crimes that are committed in off-campus housing (where a great many of the parties happen). Also, universities do not usually offer a tracked system of reporting where law enforcement and the judicial system do not get involved.

    I am not saying that sexual assault isn’t a problem, I am saying that it is a problem in society as a whole and not just the military. Many crimes go unreported in civilian society. The military, due to its cloistered nature tends to have a better reporting rate. Also, it is important to remember that just because a crime doesn’t go to the MP’s doesn’t mean that it is unpunished. NCO’s in the Army have general authority and commanders can impose punishments.

    The baseline is, a lot of you are talking like experts about the military when you really have no idea how the military works. We have our own justice system, our own code of conduct and our own way of life that is alien to civilians. That is why many Soldiers, such as Pvt Chen, feel culture shocked, isolated and at times depressed when they first enter the military. It is not an easy world or a gentle world and there are always going to be the sad cases that can’t hack it. In cases like Pvt Chen, it is an all around tragedy for everyone. However, I don’t see how you can comment seriously about an organization that you have never been a part of and have no real understanding of. I’ve been in eight years and I am still learning new things every day about how the Army functions.

  12. Also, I have to wonder how the prosecution thought they would get negligent homicide. That would set an incredibly dangerous precedent for all future suicides. When a kid kills himself in college, would we now charge the Residential Advisor and the Dean for negligent homicide?

    Suicide, by definition, it a choice to inflict death upon oneself. No one forced him to kill himself, and indeed his commander was intending to transfer him out of theater. I’ve always told my Soldiers that no matter how bad it gets, reach down, grab your nuts, man up and drive on. It is a tragedy that some troopers just can’t do that.

    Being Asian American, life can be hard in the military. You do have to earn respect amongst your peers. I’m well undersized too, standing only about 5″4 and being pretty light too. I had to bust my a$$ to earn respect. In the military, respect isn’t given, it is earned and you earn it every day in every task.

  13. Cavscout,

    I agree with much of what you say about military life, that people who don’t live it can’t understand it. I understand that falling asleep is a serious, serious infraction, and that if Danny Chen actually did that, then he should by all means be kicked out. If it’s true that he did that, he jeopardized the lives of his men, and that’s unacceptable.

    My issue (and I’m not sure if you were disagreeing with me in particular) is from a different angle. The military is usually LED by a civilian and is under the command of civilians. YOUR commander in chief is President Obama, who is a civilian, and until recently, all Secretaries of Defense/War had been civilians. In some countries the government is led by the military, but in ours, the military is led by the government, which is elected by the people. The military represents our country, and the military is a career option for many young people of color. How you act affects how we live.

    So the question is this–within reason, shouldn’t the American people, civilians and non-civilians, have some say in what is acceptable conduct in a military that WE control through our election of the President? If someone in the military can argue effectively that racial harassment is absolutely necessary in order for military men to do their jobs, then that’s something we’ll just have to live with. But to my knowledge, no one, civilian or military, is making that argument.

  14. The US military’s existence is to serve the nation, and the nation is run by the jurisdiction of its citizens. The US military therefore functions under civilian jursidiction — NOT the other way around.

    Plus, face the reality of the situation — Danny Chen was KILLED, and there was a coverup. Your Asian life ain’t worth shit in the US military — plus, you’re probably going to be fighting Asians in any kind of future altercation in the Pacific. Killing others of your own ethnicity, while the IR disparity ensures that white men are banging asian chicks? The ultimate definition of pathetic.

    I would never fight against Asia in a war. Never.

  15. You know what, I’ll retract the insults, since I’m sure its hard enough for AA soldiers as it is. The fact that you acknowledge the difficulty of being Asian American in the military is a nice acknowledgement, so I’ll stop giving flak about being in the military here.

    But if it were me, I would never… ever… join the US military, ever. And I never will.

    Love guns though.

  16. I agree with much of what you say about military life, that people who don’t live it can’t understand it. I understand that falling asleep is a serious, serious infraction, and that if Danny Chen actually did that, then he should by all means be kicked out. If it’s true that he did that, he jeopardized the lives of his men, and that’s unacceptable. – See more at: http://www.bigwowo.com/2012/09/first-person-account-of-the-trial-of-specialist-ryan-offutt-by-mitchell-zhang/#comment-205784

    While not denying that race is a factor in this, I think it’s a larger cultural problem. Hate to use Hollywood, but if the portrayals in A Few Good Men and Full Metal Jacket are correct, hazing is just embedded in the military culture, just like you might argue it is in the greek fraternity ambient.

    I know that much of the focus is on the lack of justice, but as I’m not familiar with the statistics, I’m wondering if there’s also a general lack of justice regardless of race or gender in these things. It might be one of those things that is tacitly approved of, if not encouraged.

  17. By the way, the update mentioned that 5 individuals were sentenced for their involvement in Danny Chen’s death. A couple of weeks in jail and fines that approximately equate a couple of parking tickets does not a “sentence” make.

  18. Finally, I will refer anyone interested in this argument to this man:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_8rbHwMXMT8

    BigWOWO, you state that the military exists to help engender honor and purpose in its recruits.

    I refer to this statement made by the vet in the video:
    “That organization does not exist… to give you money for school. The organization exists… to assert the political will of the United States Government against other people, by force of arms.”

    “They’re not sending you out there to be a hero, they’re sending you out there… to be a bully.”

    THIS WAS SPOKEN BY A VET with a long standing career in the military.

    I am against Western hegemony, in all its facets, and I do not sugar coat what I see acting towards this entity and what acts against it.

  19. Eric, when dealing with any military, you have to draw a line of demarcation between the Command and the Soldier. It’s not that the soldier bears no accountability for his own actions, of course. But most soldiers are not privy to the planning and purposes of the politics of conquest. In fact, the way that all militaries work is that you agree to follow commands without asking questions.

    So, even as a Black guy, I can recognize that there were many brave, loyal, and dedicated, Confederate soldiers fighting in the Civil War. Their politics may not have been correct, and certainly not all of them were brave or noble, but some were. I could not make the statement that it was stupid or crazy to join the Confederate army. It was often misguided, based on what the soldiers had been taught and told.

  20. Just to add an anecdotal counter point to what King said, I get a very strong impression that military members are on the whole very conservative– even when they are minorities. I have a limited sample of minorities in the military to draw that conclusion from, but I’ve also heard statistics regarding how soldiers tend to vote and it seems to back this notion up.

    If it’s true that minority group soldiers are generally conservative, it wouldn’t be too off the mark to assume that their personal beliefs line up with the military’s objectives.

  21. If it’s true that minority group soldiers are generally conservative, it wouldn’t be too off the mark to assume that their personal beliefs line up with the military’s objectives.

    I doubt it… most soldiers wouldn’t even know what the military’s true objectives were.

  22. Well, I hadn’t considered that. I may have also made a mistake in equating the military’s objectives with conservatism (though probably not a big one!).

    Just as a thought experiment, though, what would you guess were the military’s true objectives in Iraq? Was it oil? Was it enriching some corporations? Would your average soldier object to that?

  23. To me, Iraq was an experiment — basically dealing with a solution on how to handle terrorism. The problem with terrorism was that it leaves no definitive “return address” on an attack, the same way a nation would be responsible for an attack. It hides in nation states. Bush went for Iraq for 1)personal reasons (revenge against assassination plot against his Dad), 2) Oil and resources, 3)Set a personal precedent that if terrorism happens, any suspect nation is accountable (even if Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11, it being in the region was apparently enough), and most importantly, 4) an experiment in the controlled “restructuring” of a country that would wean it eventually into the sphere of Western influence by “democratization”. Obviously, that experiment failed. It worked in Japan — but then again, the Middle East is not Japan, now is it?

  24. Nobody knows the true end game of the game in Iraq. Most of the time, those kind of wars have many reasons, and most are hidden. However:

    1)personal reasons (revenge against assassination plot against his Dad)
    Probably not so much personal as it was the “insiders” showing that NWO elites cannot be assassinated (even if the attempt fails) without disastrous consequences to those who try.

    2) Oil and resources.
    The money spent of the Iraq War could have bought America oil for 20 years. They paid far more than any resources would have been worth and they never took any significant oil out of Iraq anyway.

    3)Set a personal precedent that if terrorism happens, any suspect nation is accountable (even if Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11, it being in the region was apparently enough), and most importantly.

    More like an excuse for regime change for a list of hidden reasons.

    4) an experiment in the controlled “restructuring” of a country that would wean it eventually into the sphere of Western influence by “democratization”.

    Yes. And Iraq is politically closer to democracy now than it ever was under the Shah, or under Sadam, but still not “American democracy” by any stretch.

  25. Iraq is a disaster and a hotbed of Al Qaeda terrorism and a new center for Islamic resurgency. Not that that bothers me one bit, ha ha ha…

  26. Yes I am aware of the Uighurs in Xinjiang. But thanks to conflicts like the Israeli-Palestianian conflict, and various other active engagements the West is involved in, China will never be a target on the same level as the USA or Western Europe. So though Al Qaeda is a rabid dog, they are focused on biting the West now, and as far as I can tell, for the rest of my natural life.

    Plus the idea of confining 1.3-1.4 billion people out of Tibet and Xinjiang is preposterous.

  27. The Tibetan issue could have been handled better. It could have been incorporated into Chinese culture as a natural cultural aspect of diverse China, but because of historical Communist paranoia, it was demonized — which I feel was a bad policy choice.

    I am hoping that the liberal reformists in power in China will move towards making better policy choices in the future.

  28. And don’t act like the USA is going to resolve or pull itself out of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict… ever. The US will be mired in the Middle East because of this issue, and it will continue to inspire Islamic extremism against the USA.

    Again… ha ha ha.

  29. I said that the IR disparity is due to Western hegemony.

    Well, all I can say is — you pay for your hegemony… with blood.

  30. And don’t act like the USA is going to resolve or pull itself out of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict… ever.

    Ha! Who do think created it in the first place? And for what reasons?

  31. Exactly…. how many Americans are fighting in Palestine?

    That is a NON-issue. As much as the media directs us to it as an explanation for everything from war to terrorism to bad hair days.

  32. I think that the ruling elites interest is at least in part to keep an influence in the area even if it’s by proxy, but there’s this weird kind of interest that the religious fanatics on the right as well. With elites like Bush, you have to wonder if their interest is fanatical on that religious level as well or if they’re just entirely cynically using that for support of their policies.

  33. I think it’s clearly a good area for sparking religious problems when they are necessary. Islam, Judaism, and Christianity all have holy sites there. Perfect for causing trouble. The whole thing was set up by the British with the support of faction in the U.S. and the sanction of League of Nations/United Nations.

  34. @ King,

    Iraq is most certainly a success story.

    1. The Iraqi polity has been fractured into rival sectarian powers forever dependent on external support. In essence, what has been created is a self-regulating political policing and military system that will rely on external kingmakers to carry out any decision bigger than a single sect alone can carry out.

    2. An economy that was closed to the international system has been “opened” up, even if the framework is imperfect. Foreign multi-nationals have a very strong presence in Iraq now, within high security enclaves. During Saddam’s time this would not have been possible. Every decision could only have been approved by Saddam.

    3. Iraqi oil also strengthened the PETRO-DOLLAR, which is an arrangement in which essentially nearly all the world’s supply of oil would have to be bought with American dollars, therefore ensuring constant demand for the American dollar amongst all the world’s nations, turning the US dollar into a reserve currency by which all other currencies would be de facto based on. Think of the idea of the Spice like in Dune, except that since it was not possible to control all the Spice, the currency and the markets by which Spice is bought and sold is controlled instead.

    4. The Spice must flow, this is reason enough to invade Iraq, especially if there rumors of an oil bourse in other currencies is true.

    5. I have come to the conclusion that the net value for all wars when weighed against the costs to a common humanity is an extreme negative value. However this is not the case when selective accounting is performed. If the accounting is done to take into account selective factors only, then a loss can be turned into a profit. In post-war Iraq, if oil were to be taken out of the books, who would stop it from happening? Most importantly who would be there to check in the first place? Moreover it is a suspicion of mine that although the war is costly for Americans, it was in fact very profitable for certain sectors of Americans. These Americans were euphoric.

    6. (All talk of Peak Oil disappeared from the international media following the 2008 derivatives and banking collapse and several years of “quantitative easing”. )

    7. Selective perception or even a selective choosing of outcomes would be sufficient motive for policymakers to launch wars, especially if the drivers of the wars are essentially insulated from its effects

  35. Follow your playmate’s advice and confine your rants to your Special Corner, Eric. :D

    ROFL

  36. That corner was for whoever would like to play in it, and you and a few others certainly took to it like a duck to water. :D

    Now shoo back to your Special Corner, leave this discussion to the adults :D

  37. Iraq is probably mixed in its results, but clearly the goal was not that there would be no more violence in Iraq. This holding up incidents of violent outbreaks is meaningless unless those outbreaks have seriously compromised the state. They have not.

    And, nice Herbert reference… The spice must indeed flow.

  38. And, nice Herbert reference… The spice must indeed flow. – See more at: http://www.bigwowo.com/2012/09/first-person-account-of-the-trial-of-specialist-ryan-offutt-by-mitchell-zhang/#comment-207130

    Now, my question again is, would your average soldier have a problem with that objective if indeed it is part of the true list of objectives?

    My experience tells me that a good number of them don’t. To join a voluntary army, you probably have to subscribe to a certain set of beliefs to begin with– unless your situation is so desperate that you see no other choice but to join in order to provide for your family (something that I’ve certainly seen as well).

  39. What can be done for the soldiers who may currently be experiencing similar types of abuse/hazing? The at times hostile environment is very much “the norm”. How can someone determine whether it is discriminatory and speak out without being backlashed? And finally, if precedence has not served adequate corrective/preventative measures, what hope is there for soldiers who need help right now?

  40. Follow the example of how women activists are cracking down on sexual abuse in the military. The military is by default resistant to change, so it will be an uphill climb.

    Asian-Americans should not be putting their lives at risk for furthering Western hegemonistic interests in the first place. Everyone has the right to decide, but it seems like a poor decision, especially when faced with an Islamic insurgency that will continue to fight Americans for the rest of our natural lives. Plus, the training received in the military does not translate into civilian life — which is why so many vets have a hard time finding work.

  41. “Follow the example of how women activists are cracking down on sexual abuse in the military.”

    Specifically?

  42. I don’t know. I’m not affiliated with the military in any way — that’s just my best guess. Do the homework.

  43. It’s okay, you were just guessing. Don’t worry, I don’t hold it against you.

  44. The point, Raguel, being blind to obvious, is don’t join the fucking US military. Why anyone would willingly walk into a war zone for illegitimate political agendas is beyond me.

  45. Pingback: State of the WOWO / Change of tone in 2014 | bigWOWO

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