Twenty Marine Corps personnel face possible discipline or criminal charges after investigations intothe death of a 20-year-old Muslim recruit from Michigan found multiple violations of policies and procedures at a key recruiting outpost, including indications that Raheel Siddiqui of Taylor was physically abused and called a “terrorist” by his drill sergeant.
Marine officials told the Detroit Free Press on Thursday that while Siddiqui’s death was a suicide as initially reported by the Corps, an alleged assault by his drill sergeant, who forced Siddiqui to repeatedly run the length of a squad bay and slapped him, was the likely impetus for his jumping over a wall and falling three floors to his death in a stairwell on March 18.
Siddiqui, according to the officials, who did not speak for attribution because the report had not been released publicly, had threatened suicide days before his death but was still returned to training, with others in his company failing to report allegations he had made of physical abuse. Siddiqui had been just 11 days into his training at Parris Island, S.C., when he died.
The attorney for the Siddiqui family, Shiraz Khan, released a statement Thursday on their behalf that said there are still "too many questions that remain answered."
"In light of the recent release by the United States Marine Corps Command Investigation into the facts and circumstances surrounding the death ... the Siddiqui family and their lawyer ... are currently reviewing the findings and will determine their next course of action.
The death of Siddiqui has alarmed Muslim-American and civil rights advocates who expressed concern that he may have been targeted because of his faith and ethnicity. Siddiqui was Muslim and of Pakistani descent.
Reports that more than a dozen Marine personnel at the Parris Island training depot could be relieved of duty or face other discipline had circulated for months following Siddiqui’s death. A top official there lost his post in early June. As recently as July, it appeared 15 drill instructors or other personnel were being looked at through the command investigation.
The Wall Street Journal first reported on the investigations’ conclusions Thursday, along with the allegations regarding Siddiqui’s drill instructor.
U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., released a statement saying she had met Thursday with the Marine Corps commandant, Gen. Robert Neller, and learned that 20 personnel could face court proceedings or administrative action.
Marine officials confirmed for the Detroit Free Press that the drill sergeant — who was alleged to have verbally and physically abused another Muslim recruit in a previous platoon — had slapped Siddiqui when he refused to respond to orders and referred to him as a “terrorist.”
The officials said there were several points at which it should have been clear to others that the drill sergeant — whose name was not made public — should have been suspended from his duties given the allegations against him.
Meanwhile, a statement released by the Marine Corps indicated that personnel under investigation have been suspended and a zero-tolerate policy toward hazing implemented at the training depot.
“Today’s announcement ... is a first step in ensuring the family of Private Raheel Siddiqui receives the answers they deserve and that the Marine Corps is addressing the serious issues that led to this tragedy,” said Dingell, who had been pressing for answers for months following Siddiqui’s death.
The statement by the Marine Corps summarized the investigations in general, finding patterns of “recurrent physical and verbal abuse of recruits by drill instructors” with a lack of oversight by those in command. It also noted the “improper assignment of a drill instructor for duty while under investigation for previous allegations of assault and hazing.”
The Corps said a number of top level commanders and senior enlisted advisers at Parris Island training facility were relieved of duty, as were a number of drill instructors in the wake of the findings, which also included mistreatment of new drill instructors by more experienced ones, gaps in the command structure and “anomalies and inconsistences” in responding to threats of suicide.
Policies and procedures for dealing with mental health issues and suicide prevention protocols are also to be reviewed in the aftermath of the investigations. While it did not appear from the statement that anyone had been specifically charged in Siddiqui’s death, it left open the possibility of criminal charges.
"I fully support and endorse these initial actions," Neller said. “When America's men and women commit to becoming Marines, we make a promise to them. We pledge to train them with firmness, fairness, dignity and compassion. Simply stated, the manner in which we make Marines is as important as the finished product.”
He added: "We mourn the loss of Recruit Siddiqui, and we will take every step necessary to prevent tragic events like this from happening again."
From early on, Siddiqui’s death has raised red flags for his family and supporters, who questioned the initial report that he had committed suicide. Ayad said in April that they found the initial report — that Siddiqui had jumped over a wall to his death after being slapped awake during daytime training — hard to believe.
A copy of the report was provided to the family, according to officials.
Meanwhile, Dingell said she plans to visit Parris Island this weekend to meet with new leadership there “and learn about the changes that are being implemented to ensure a tragedy like this never happens again.”
“Private Siddiqui was a son, brother and class valedictorian who believed this country represented freedom and opportunity. As a young Muslim man, he truly understood the value of freedom of religion, and all he wanted was to defend the ideals our nation holds dear,” said Dingell. “This is the very least the Siddiqui family — and the thousands of families across our country whose children serve in uniform — deserve.”