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Corps Was Warned About Hazing Day Before Muslim Recruit's Death

Recruits hike under the iconic "We Make Marines" sign during the Crucible Aug. 26, 2016, on Parris Island, S.C. (Photo by Lance Cpl. Aaron Bolser)
Recruits hike under the iconic "We Make Marines" sign during the Crucible Aug. 26, 2016, on Parris Island, S.C. (Photo by Lance Cpl. Aaron Bolser)

On March 17, the Marine officer assigned to investigate reports of hazing and abuse by several drill instructors within Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island's 3rd Recruit Training Battalion received an email containing a written interview with a recruit whose testimony corroborated some of the most serious allegations under investigation.

A day later, 20-year-old recruit Raheel Siddiqui would be dead in what was later ruled a suicide prompted by his mistreatment by a drill instructor at the heart of the earlier investigation.

A command probe into Siddiqui's death revealed that attempts were made to reach someone by telephone after the investigating officer received the March 17 email, though the name of the intended contact is redacted.

In the wake of the recruit's tragic death, an official verified with the unit that the drill instructor had never been suspended. He had been allowed to remain on duty because investigators believed the evidence against him lacked veracity due to delays in investigating the allegations.

Left unanswered is whether the new information, received so late and never decisively acted upon, could have helped put an end to the abuse and saved the recruit's life.

The drill instructor who berated and slapped Siddiqui just before the recruit vaulted over a stairwell railing to his death was under investigation for mistreatment of another Muslim recruit in a different platoon the year before and, most shockingly, of running an industrial clothes dryer with the recruit inside in a mock-interrogation session, causing the recruit to sustain burns to his neck and shoulders.

During this late-night hazing session, the drill instructor allegedly told the recruit that the Marine Corps paid him to weed out spies, and he was going to uncover the recruit's real identity. He asked the recruit if he was part of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, then closed the dryer door and set it to run for about 30 seconds, tumbling the recruit inside.

The drill instructor allegedly repeated this pattern three more times, asking the recruit why he was at boot camp and if he were a Muslim.

"What are your plans, terrorist?" the recruit alleged that the drill instructor demanded. "Over the past 14 years since 9/11, I have been fighting people exactly like you."

The recruit claimed he was singled out on other occasions too. He was made to say that "Muslim" was a made-up word, and that "terrorist" is the correct word for people who practice Islam, he alleges.

Once, the recruit said, a drill instructor threatened to kill him and mount him on a guidon in front of everyone, "to show how he feels about people who practice Islam."

Another time, according to the investigation, he said he was instructed to yell "Allahu akbar" so loudly that he woke up the entire squad bay.

The investigation into these allegations, launched in 2015, was still ongoing at the time of Siddiqui's death. Officials determined at the completion of the investigation that two drill instructors deserved to face court-martial based "on the serious nature of the violations."

Officials also recommended that equal opportunity training be conducted "focused on the effects of good order and discipline on the command climate when prejudices drive action."

Soberingly, the investigating officer acknowledged that the drill instructors who allegedly harassed and abused this unnamed Muslim recruit might never see a courtroom for these actions. Multiple recruits denied the allegations, the officer noted, and no drill instructors corroborated them.

"Convictions will be difficult to obtain," the investigator said. "Consideration may be made to seek an administrative remedy."

Prior to Siddiqui's death, investigators found that the Pakistani-American Muslim had also been called a terrorist by drill instructors. The investigation into his death revealed a host of systemic problems, including the decision to keep him in boot camp after he voiced suicidal ideations early in training, and a failure to inform his drill instructors about these ideations when he returned to training.

But verbal and physical abuse by the drill instructor who was never suspended, even after the March 17 email, provided the "impetus" for Siddiqui's suicide, investigators found.

Now, 15 drill instructors and five officers may face criminal charges or administrative punishments for their role in creating an environment in which hazing and abuse were allowed to persist within 3rd Recruit Training Battalion.

Their fates will likely be determined within the next three months, officials said.

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at@HopeSeck.

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