The family members of a 20-year-old man who died days after arriving at Marine Corps boot camp are the latest to call on the Supreme Court to overturn a decision about a decades-old rule that blocks some lawsuits against the military.
The parents of Raheel Siddiqui filed a petition with the Supreme Court last month that says the Feres doctrine, a controversial rule that bars troops and their families from suing the government if an injury or death is connected to military service, should not apply to their case.
Siddiqui died at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island in South Carolina in 2016 after falling nearly 40 feet to his death in a barracks stairwell. Investigations into his death uncovered troubling examples of misconduct among drill instructors at the recruit depot -- including Siddiqui's.
His family in 2017 sued the Marine Corps, alleging Siddiqui had been hazed, abused, discriminated against and mistreated because of his Muslim faith. The $100 million wrongful-death case was dismissed by the U.S. 6th Court of Appeals in 2019.
The reason for the dismissal, according to the judge's opinion: they were bound by the Feres doctrine.
But the new Supreme Court petition argues that the Feres doctrine shouldn't apply to Siddiqui's case because he was still a civilian when his recruiter failed to warn him about the abuse other Muslim trainees faced at boot camp.
"[The] Recruiter took advantage of Raheel and his parents' naïve and trusting nature, intentionally sending him and his family down a path that would eventually result in extreme hazing and abuse leading to Raheel's untimely death," the petition states.
After Siddiqui's death, one of the recruit's drill instructors was found guilty of hazing and assaulting more than a dozen trainees, including three Muslims. That drill instructor, along with at least one other, was found to have forced Muslim recruits into an industrial clothes dryer, which was turned on while the young men were inside it.
The Marine Corps, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the petition, ruled Siddiqui's death a suicide. His parents dispute that.
"This is not a case of medical malpractice," the petition states. "It is not a case of negligent enlistment, or suicide (which remains verifiably uncorroborated), it's a case of systemic abuses, intentional failures at all levels of command, and deliberate religious discrimination causing the death of an American Citizen on American soil."
Less than a week after Siddiqui arrived at boot camp in 2016, he told drill instructors he wanted to kill himself, according to a Marine Corps investigation into his death. He was temporarily sidelined from training but returned after medical evaluations.
A few days later, he requested medical treatment for a sore throat. His drill instructor made him run across the squad bay until Siddiqui collapsed. He appeared unresponsive, and according to the investigation, his drill instructor slapped him, which is prohibited.
That's when Siddiqui got up and ran to the stairwell, where he fell to his death.
The case prompted a host of punishments and changes to boot camp policies. That included a new rule preventing drill instructors under investigation for hazing or abusing recruits from training recruits, as Siddiqui's had been allowed to do.
Siddiqui's family has long disputed the finding that the recruit died by suicide.
For the recruit's family's petition to progress, the Supreme Court would need to order the lower court to send up its record of the case it dismissed for review.
The court is "not under any obligation to hear these cases," the federal courts system's website states.
"In fact, the Court accepts 100-150 of the more than 7,000 cases that it is asked to review each year," it adds.
This is not the first time in recent months that elements of the Feres doctrine have been challenged. The fiscal 2020 defense budget passed with a provision allowing the Defense Department to pay claims for military malpractice, which was previously prohibited under the doctrine.