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Marines move forward with prosecution of drill instructor accused of putting recruit in dryer

By DAN LAMOTHE | The Washington Post | Published: April 6, 2017

The Marine Corps moved forward Wednesday with the prosecution of two drill instructors accused of hazing and abusing recruits, including one who allegedly put a recruit in an industrial-size clothes dryer and turned it on repeatedly.

Gunnery Sgt. Joseph Felix and Sgt. Michael Eldridge will be arraigned at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, at a date that has not yet been determined, the service said a statement. Both Marines trained recruits at the service's installation at Parris Island, South Carolina, and face charges of cruelty and maltreatment, being drunk and disorderly, failing to obey a lawful order and making false official statements. Felix also is accused of obstruction of justice.

Attempts to reach both Marines were unsuccessful Wednesday night. Felix, reached by cellphone last year, declined to comment on the case.

Felix is accused of calling a Muslim recruit a terrorist before putting him in a dryer one night in July 2015, according to documents previously released by the service. His name is redacted from them, but two U.S. officials with knowledge of the case identified Felix as the Marine involved.

Felix also is accused of hazing another Muslim recruit, Pvt. Raheel Siddiqui, after Marine officials allowed Felix to continue training recruits. Siddiqui, 20, fell about 40 feet to his death March 18, 2016, after running away from Felix and careening over a railing, a Marine Corps investigation found last year. His death was ruled a suicide, but his family has contested that.

The Marine Corps did not specify Wednesday whether Eldridge is involved in the same case but announced in the same statement identifying Felix that Eldridge will be arraigned.

The Siddiqui case opened a window into maltreatment by numerous drill instructors at Parris Island, one of two training centers the Marine Corps runs for enlisted recruits. Hundreds of hazing and abuse cases have been investigated there in the past few years alone, and a third of them have been substantiated, according to Marine Corps documents. Most of those cases have not received any attention outside the service, and Marine officials have released details about only a few of them.

Marine officials said last fall that up to 20 officers and enlisted Marines could face some form of discipline in connection with the Siddiqui case. At least two officers and a senior enlisted Marine were removed from their jobs at Parris Island last year.

An attorney for the Siddiqui family, Shiraz Khan, said in a statement that the family was notified that charges will be brought against one Marine involved in Siddiqui's case, and that charges against others are still under consideration. The charges thus far "do not align with the facts, evidence and history of this case and are indicative of a remarkable deviation" from the investigation carried out into the recruit's death, the lawyer said.

"The physical findings on Raheel's body tell a story of torture, abuse, and suffering," he said. "His name was swiftly and urgently tied to an unsubstantiated and unverified claim of 'suicide' almost immediately, and despite facts and evidentiary material to the contrary, there are no apparent charges of assault, and no consideration of manslaughter or murder at this time."

The lawyer added that at one point, Marine officials announced that up to 20 service members could face discipline in the case, but so far "it appears that one individual is at the center of these charges.

"Where are those other charges?" Khan said. "His family and friends are left without answers. Raheel's family deserves to know what really happened there. They have suffered irreparable damage and no family should ever have to go through what they were forced to endure."

Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island is shown in this undated photo.
AARON BOLSER/U.S. MARINE CORPS

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