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By msnbc.com, NBC News and WNBC

Eight U.S. soldiers have been charged in the death of 19-year-old Private Danny Chen, who was found shot to death in a guard tower in Afghanistan.  It was first thought that Chen may have committed suicide.

The military’s investigation found however that Chen, an Asian-American from New York’s Chinatown, had been the target of ethnic slurs and physical attacks at the hands of his fellow soldiers.

Chen was found dead on Oct. 3 with a gunshot wound below the chin; it’s not clear from today’s charges whether the eight soldiers are accused of killing him or whether officials are alleging that their mistreatment of Chen led him to take his own life.

Last week, hundreds of supporters held a vigil and demanded answers in Chen’s death. A group of community leaders at the vigil said it had a meeting at the Pentagon recently about the treatment of Asian soldiers in the military, and wanted the commanding officers to be punished.

Read more coverage on NBC New York

At the vigil last Thursday, the soldier’s family ramped up pressure on investigators, reading aloud letters Chen had sent home, reflecting the state of isolation he was in from being harassed by his comrades and superiors.

“‘Feb. 27, 2011: Since I am the only Chinese person here, everyone knows me by Chen,'” read his cousin Banny Chen. “‘They ask if I’m from China a few times a day… They also call out my name Chen in a goat-like voice sometimes for no reason.'”

“‘People crack jokes about Chinese people all the time. I’m running out of jokes to come back at them.'”

Chen’s death is one of several recent cases of alleged hazing in the military, according to OCA, a national civil rights organization serving Asian Pacific Americans.

Elizabeth OuYang, New York branch president of OCA, said in October that some 3,000 Asian Americans were recruited to serve in the U.S. military in 2009.

Lawyer Mathew B. Tully, an expert in military law and a former Army soldier, wrote in an article earlier this year that the “military’s zero-tolerance position on hazing has not completely eradicated the practice” of hazing.

“While some instances of hazing are as easy to identify as the marks they leave on victims, verbal or psychological offenses are not as black and white,” he wrote. “For example, in 2007 three Marines based in Yorktown, Va., were charged with hazing subordinates after making them stand in formation for five hours and perform cleaning duties to the point of exhaustion, without food or sleep.”

According to an official statement from the military, 1st Lt. Daniel J. Schwartz, Staff Sgt. Blaine G. Dugas, Staff Sgt. Andrew J. Van Bockel, Sgt. Adam M. Holcomb, Sgt. Jeffrey T. Hurst, Spc. Thomas P. Curtis, Spc. Ryan J. Offutt and Sgt. Travis F. Carden, all of C Co., 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division were charged Wednesday in connection with the death of Chen, an infantryman assigned to C Co. at Combat Outpost Palace.

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