An investigation into the alleged suicide of a Muslim Marine has determined that a culture of hazing of recruits has long existed at the service’s training center at Parris Island, South Carolina.
Pakistani-American Muslim Raheel Siddiqui died on March 18—just 11 days after reporting to boot camp from Taylor, Michigan—after falling 40 feet onto a barracks stairwell railing. According to the Wall Street Journal, Siddiqui was regularly abused both physically and verbally by a drill instructor, who would frequently refer to the 20-year-old recruit as a terrorist.
On the day of his death, Siddiqui was involved in a physical altercation with the drill instructor. According to Marine officials familiar with the investigation, Siddiqui asked the instructor for medical attention for a sore throat, but was refused. Instead, the drill instructor forced Siddiqui to run from one end of the barracks floor to the other several times.
The officials said Siddiqui started to cry, fell to the floor, and appeared unresponsive. The drill instructor then forcefully slapped Siddiqui’s face as many as three times after he failed to respond to the order to rise to his feet. The incident was classified as an assault, given that training regulations prohibits an instructor from striking a recruit.
The drill instructor’s slap awoke Siddiqui, who then got up and ran out of the barracks door, jumping over the railing of the outdoor stairwell, the officials said. His feet, however, caught on the railing, tripping him, and his head and torso slammed into the steel railing of the stairwell three stories below, according to the Marines.
The Siddiqui family doesn’t believe their son committed suicide because there was “a lack of material evidence” to support that theory.
They also said he was singled out. “The family feels that their son was targeted and intentionally abused. It is our understanding that Raheel did not display any disqualifying conditions, medical or otherwise during recruiting and processing into the U.S. Marine Corps,” according to family attorney Shiraz Khan, reported by the Detroit Free Press.
Investigations conducted by the Marine Corps. into Siddiqui’s death could lead to criminal charges or administrative discipline for up to 20 members of the Parris Island’s staff. Newly released documents obtained by the Washington Post have revealed patterned abusive behavior in various battalions dating back to 2014.
The Post reported that the same drill instructor who abused Siddiqui was already under investigation over allegations of abuse of another Muslim recruit in 2015.
The recruit claimed he was forced into an industrial clothes dryer by the instructor and suffered burns after it was turned on. The recruit also claimed that he, too, was called a terrorist.
“You’re going to kill us all the first chance you get aren’t you, terrorist?” the drill instructor said to the recruit, according to Marine officials citing another recruit who overheard the nearly two-hour ordeal. “What are your plans? Aren’t you a terrorist?”
Despite officials’ knowledge of the abuse allegations, the drill instructor was still allowed to train recruits.
There were other alleged incidents of abuse at the training center, including usage of homophobic and ethnic slurs, drinking on the job, and repeated unauthorized physical training, leading to injury of recruits.
The Washington Post also wrote that a senior drill instructor made a recruit log in his Facebook account to get his sister to phone Parris Island, after the instructor had seen a photo of her. When she called, the instructor took the phone away from the recruit and started flirting with his sister. The instructor refuted the claims when confronted with the allegations, but Facebook posts presented later proved otherwise.
Investigators found that abuse was rampant in Parris Island’s 3rd Recruit Training Battalion. A major overhaul by a senior official removed numerous Marines from their positions, including “toxic leader” Lt. Col. Joshua Kissoon.
Kissoon’s “derisive attitude toward his company grade officers, and perceived self-interest caused his officers to lose confidence in his leadership,” reported the Washington Post.
Kissoon’s boss, Col. Paul D. Cucinotta, and his senior enlisted adviser, Sgt. Maj. Nicholas Deabreu, were also removed from their jobs after an investigation showed that the men weren’t proactive in stopping the mistreatment of recruits.
Threats of “snitches get stitches” deterred recruits from speaking out about the abuse and recruits were also bribed with food items to remain mum on the matter.
In a Tuesday statement, Marine Commandant Gen. Robert B. Neller offered his condolences to the Siddiqui family and said he “fully supported and endorsed” the action taken so far in the case.
“We pledge to train them [recruits] with firmness, fairness, dignity, and compassion,” he said.
“We mourn the loss of recruit Siddiqui, and we will take every step necessary to prevent tragic events like this from happening again.”
Siddiqui’s father added, “We need to ask ourselves, what if this patriotic young man was our son or our brother? Would his faith make him less American? Absolutely not. We are not only standing for the rights of Raheel, but in reality we are standing for justice and for the rights of every American.”
The Michigan branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Dearborn) have called for a full investigation into the death of Raheel Siddiqui.