-- A Muslim Marine recruit at Parris Island boot camp in South Carolina was "forcibly slapped" in the face several times by his drill instructor moments before he ran away and fell to his death from a three story fall at his barracks, a new report said.
The Marines have ruled the March death of 20-year-old Raheel Siddiqui a suicide and a broad investigation into the treatment of Marine recruits at Parris Island has resulted in 20 Marines facing criminal charges or administrative punishment for the abuse and mistreatment of recruits.
At the time Siddiqui had been complaining that his throat hurt and “would not speak or answer when prompted.” He had fallen to the floor grabbing his neck “in apparent pain and failing to comply with orders to respond.” The drill sergeant insisted on an “an acceptable response” that precipitated his slapping Siddiqui.
The report also found that Siddiqui’s drill instructor was alleged “to have engaged in serious misconduct with a previous platoon, including hazing and verbal and physical abuse of a Muslim recruit.” Substantiation of those allegations should have led to his suspension as a drill instructor.
Five days prior to his death, Siddiqui was found to have made a suicidal threat that led to his being placed on watch and scheduled for a mental health evaluation the next day. He recanted his threat but his unit’s leadership “failed to report an allegation he made of physical abuse by his drill instructors,” the report said. The next day he was cleared for duty.
A Marine Corps statement released Thursday said "findings from the Siddiqui investigation conclude that Siddiqui's death was the result of suicide."
Democratic Congresswoman Debbie Dingell had asked the Marine Corps, on behalf of Siddiqui's family, to ascertain if his Muslim faith and Pakistani heritage may have resulted in hazing that contributed to his death.
The statement added that three command-level investigations into allegations of abuse and maltreatment at Parris Island "revealed departures from the policies and procedures established for Marine Corps recruit training, specifically within three platoons within Third Recruit Training Battalion."
"Currently, twenty Recruit Training Regiment personnel have been identified for possible military justice or administrative action," the statement said. Officials have said that the majority of those under investigation had been drill instructors.
Commanders and senior enlisted advisers at several levels "were relieved in the wake of Recruit Siddiqui's death and a number of drill instructors have been suspended," the statement said.
"When America's men and women commit to becoming Marines, we make a promise to them. We pledge to train them with firmness, fairness, dignity and compassion," said General Robert Neller, the Commandant of the Marine Corps. "Simply stated, the manner in which we make Marines is as important as the finished product. Recruit training is, and will remain, physically and mentally challenging so that we can produce disciplined, ethical, basically-trained Marines."
The investigations found "recurrent physical and verbal abuse of recruits by drill instructors, with a noted insufficiency of oversight and supervision at various command levels" said the Marine statement. And the abuse was not limited to new recruits, investigators found that new drill instructors were also mistreated by more experienced drill instructors.
The broader look at the circumstances into Siddiqui's death also determined there were "anomalies and inconsistencies in the policies and procedures responding to suicidal ideations or statements."
Neller added, "We mourn the loss of Recruit Siddiqui, and we will take every step necessary to prevent tragic events like this from happening again."
The Marine Commandant has endorsed corrective actions that have been implemented at the Marine's recruit training depots. The Parris Island recruit depot is the facility that puts Marine recruits who live east of the Mississippi River through the rigors of its intense 13-week boot camp. The Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego, California, trains Marine recruits from states west of the Mississippi.
Under the changes there will be a greater officer presence at the depots as well as additional visibility and review of investigations by senior commanders. Personnel being investigated "for recruit abuse, hazing, or maltreatment" will face a mandatory suspension and there will be changes to the assignment process of drill instructors and officers to the depot.
There will also be a zero tolerance for "hat hazing" -- which is the hazing among drill instructors.
Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story incorrectly attributed some information about the number of investigations into the death of Marine recruit Raheel Siddiqui and the conclusions of the report to the Commandant of the Marine Corps. This information came from a Marine Corps statement.