Hearing for Marine drill instructor linked to Siddiqui's death expected soon
By WADE LIVINGSTON | The Island Packet (Hilton Head Island, S.C.) | Published: March 10, 2017
HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. (Tribune News Service) — A Marine Corps drill instructor alleged to have slapped and abused a Muslim-American recruit moments before his death could soon face a preliminary hearing to determine if his case will be tried at the highest level of military court.
“It has come to our attention that an Article 32 hearing is expected in this case on or before the end of this month,” Shiraz Khan wrote in an email to The Island Packet and Beaufort Gazette on Thursday evening. Khan is the attorney for the family of Raheel Siddiqui, the recruit who died in March 2016 after falling nearly 40 feet from his barracks at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island.
A Marine Corps investigation found the drill instructor, who the Corps has not named, to have “forcefully slapped” Siddiqui in the face “between one and three times” after the recruit fell to the floor, shortly after he was forced to run a series of “get-backs” — sprints across the length of the squadbay. Siddiqui was reportedly sick at the time and trying to request permission to go get medical treatment. Moments later, Siddiqui is reported to have to stood up, run out the back of the squadbay and jumped over the third-story railing to his death.
The Corps has ruled his death a suicide. Siddiqui’s family diputes that claim.
The drill instructor should not have been supervising Siddiqui’s platoon, the Corps said, because he was under investigation for another incident in which he put a separate Muslim recruit in a commercial dryer and questioned him about his faith and loyalty. The drill instructor is also reported to have called Siddiqui a “terrorist” during his 11 days on the island — he arrived at the depot March 7, 2016, and died 11 days later.
The Detroit Free Press first reported on Wednesday the possibility of an Article 32 hearing. That paper cited U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, as saying that the he’d heard from the Corps that the hearing is expected by the end of March.
The Article 32 hearing is required before a case can proceed to a general court-martial, Corps spokesperson Capt. Joshua Pena told the Packet and Gazette in December. A general court-martial is “the most serious level of military courts,” according the Corps.
In a Wednesday email, Pena said the Corps “will have an update on (Maj. Gen. James W. Lukeman’s) decisions” Friday.
In the wake of Siddiqui’s death, three Corps investigations — one into his death, a “red dot” inquiry prompted by the White House and an older investigation that began in 2015 — were linked and uncovered widespread recruit abuse, hazing and leadership failings.
In September, the Corps announced that up to 20 drill instructors and leadership personnel could face charges. The first of those charges came in December.
One former drill instructor, Staff Sgt. Antonio Burke, had his Article 32 hearing in January. He is accused of cruelty and maltreatment, failing to obey an order and making a false statement.
Recruits testified at his hearing that they were called names, forced to do calisthenics in a dusty building — called “the Dungeon” — and made to help a drill instructor with his homework during recruit training on Parris Island.
Burke’s case is not related to Siddiqui’s death, the Corps said.
Neither are special courts-martial cases — intermediate level trials — against Staff Sgt. Matthew T. Bacchus, Sgt. Riley R. Gress and Staff Sgt. Jose Lucena-Martinez.
Bacchus is accused of maltreatment, violating an order and making a false statement.
Gress is accused of cruelty and maltreatment, failure to obey an order and making a false statement.
Lucena-Martinez is alleged to have failed to obey an order and to have made a false statement.
The scandal in the wake of Siddiqui’s death has garnered international attention.
In an op-ed piece for the San Diego Union-Tribune, retired Lt. Col. Kate Germano, who oversaw training for women recruits at the depot, called Siddiqui’s death — and findings of hazing and recruit abuse stemming from three investigations related to it — “the biggest recruit training scandal since the drowning of six recruits in 1956,” when a drunken drill instructor took a platoon on a punitive nighttime march into Ribbon Creek.
“Although we have not yet received official confirmation, we are hopeful that criminal charges against those responsible will finally be brought in this nearly year-long investigation into the death of Raheel Siddiqui,” Khan said. “However, in light of the evidence, I can tell you that we are absolutely shocked that no charges have been brought yet.
“This has been a very long and painful wait for the family. But I assure you, Raheel’s voice and the truth did not die with him.”
Siddiqui was a 20-year-old Pakistani-American from Taylor, Mich. His teachers at Harry S. Truman High School said he was intelligent, a student-leader and kind and gentle person. It’s been widely reported that he joined the Corps to work on helicopters and airplanes, with the eventual goal of being an FBI agent.
“The evidence will speak for itself,” Khan said. “The family is asking that the responsible parties immediately and formally change Raheel’s manner of death from ‘suicide’ to ‘unknown’ or ‘under investigation.’ Simply put, if suicide was the most conclusive and proven manner of death in this case, this active investigation would not have lasted as long as it has.”
“It’s almost been a year,” Khan said. “It is absolutely horrifying, but for the Siddiqui family, it’s their reality.”