Lawsuit over Marine recruit's death heads to Supreme Court
By SARAH RAHAL | The Detroit News | Published: January 30, 2020
DETROIT (Tribune News Service) — A Taylor couple's lawsuit is headed to the Supreme Court in the case of their son, a 20-year-old Marine who died during boot camp in South Carolina less than two weeks after he arrived.
The parents of Raheel Siddiqui sued the Marine Corps in 2017, alleging he was assaulted, hazed, tortured and discriminated against at the training depot on Parris Island, South Carolina, because of his Muslim faith.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. 6th Circut Court of Appeals dismissed the $100 million wrongful death suit against the military in August 2019.
The court said the suit is barred under the often-criticized Feres doctrine, which relegates claims related to injuries of active-duty military personnel to the military and not the civil courts. Lawyers now are asking if Feres should be overruled in the case of alleged negligence that began before Siddiqui enlisted.
The newly filed petition argues that Marine recruiters misled Siddiqui by not warning him about the abuse of other Muslim recruits at Parris Island, and that those military officials were negligent in failing to protect him once at the training depot, where Siddiqui died in March 2016 after falling three stories.
"The government deliberately withheld material information such as hazing, abuse of Muslim recruits, and inhumane treatment that was taking place at the exact location Raheel would later be sent to upon his enlistment," according to the petition filed this month.
Siddiqui's parents, Ghazala and Masood Siddiqui, argued that the government also was negligent by almost immediately declaring their son's death a suicide without fully investigating the circumstances.
The family's attorney, Shiraz Khan, said in the petition that "because Siddiqui was considered a military recruit with an unverified allegation of suicide against him, he and his family were denied the right" to bring forth action against the military.
Khan did not comment further pending litigation and referred to the court petition.
Siddiqui was a student at the University of Michigan and worked for a national department store chain when he was recruited. His parents also met with the recruiter and asked about the process and safety of their son, according to the petition.
"Raheel Siddiqui was misled by the government recruiter into believing that he was being given a 'golden opportunity' if he enlisted by way of the recruiters," the petition said.
Before arriving at Parris Island training base on March 7, 2016, Siddiqui spent eight months in the delayed entry program, where he had regular contact with his government recruiter.
Less than one full day into training, Siddiqui attempted to complain to his superiors about his abuse. Officials dismissed being physically hit as mere "drill corrections," according to the petition.
Siddiqui was paired with a bigger, stronger recruit in a mixed-martial-arts exercise, where he sustained injuries from the drills. A note he gave to superiors indicated he was in pain, coughing blood, but denied access to the medical center, the petition said.
Later that day, a sergeant found Siddiqui unconscious in the barracks. In an attempt to revive him, the sergeant rubbed his knuckles on Siddiqui's sternum and slapped him, court records say.
Siddiqui would die from a fall at boot camp 11 days after he arrived.
On the day he died, Siddiqui had a standoff with a drill instructor over failure to comply with orders.
As punishment, he was forced to run back and forth across the barracks squad bay numerous times. At some point, he began to cry and collapsed to the ground, according to the military investigation into his death.
The drill instructor ordered the Pakistani American to stand, and slapped him one to three times across the face when Siddiqui didn’t respond. Siddiqui then got to his feet, ran the length of the squad bay, opened a door to the outside and vaulted over a stairwell railing, military investigators said.
His foot caught on the railing as he went over, and Siddiqui fell three stories onto the concrete. He later died from his injuries. The Marines classified the death as a suicide.
The Marine investigators’ report on Siddiqui’s death, dated Aug. 10, found that he had threatened to kill himself four days before he died on March 18. Commanding officers at Parris Island believed Marine recruits threatened to kill themselves to avoid training — a bias that investigators say led them to discount Siddiqui’s serious mental condition, the military said.
However, his death followed revelations of systemic hazing and abuse of recruits within the 3rd Recruit Training Battalion at the training depot in South Carolina.
"The documented trail of abuse suffered by Raheel is not an isolated incident," the petition stated. "Even though there were documented incidents of torture and abuse against other Muslim recruits by the same command at the same recruit
depot, there were no attempts by the Government to exercise discretion in relocating Muslim recruits to a different battalion."
His family does not believe their son committed suicide, Khan said, saying they believe he was targeted for abused. Khan said there's a lack of material evidence needed to support suicide as the most probable cause of death.