WASHINGTON — Twenty Marines face possible disciplinary action after investigations into the death of a 20-year-old Muslim recruit from Michigan found violations of policies and procedures, with one media report saying Raheel Siddiqui of Taylor was physically abused and referred to as a terrorist by a drill instructor.
U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., released a statement Thursday saying she met with the Marine Corps commandant, Gen. Robert Neller, who told her that as many as 20 personnel at the training facility at Parris Island, S.C., face possible court proceedings or administrative action.
“Today’s announcement ... is a first step in ensuring the family of Private Raheel Siddiqui receives the answers they deserve and that the Marine Corps is addressing the serious issues that led to this tragedy,” said Dingell, who had been pressing the Corps for answers following Siddiqui’s death on March 18 after he fell 40 feet in a barracks stairwell.
A statement by the Marine Corps on Thursday summarized the investigations, which concluded that Siddiqui’s death was a suicide as initially reported but uncovered patterns of “recurrent physical and verbal abuse of recruits by drill instructors” with a lack of oversight. They also noted the “improper assignment of a drill instructor for duty while under investigation for previous allegations of assault and hazing.”
The Corps said a number of top level commanders and senior enlisted advisers at Parris Island had been relieved of duty, as have a number of drill instructors in the wake of the findings. The report also found mistreatment of new drill instructors by more experienced ones, gaps in the command structure and “anomalies and inconsistencies” in responding to threats of suicide.
Personnel under investigation for abusing or hazing recruits have been suspended, and Corps officials said there will be a zero-tolerance policy for hazing. Procedures for dealing with mental health issues and suicide prevention protocols are also to be reviewed. It did not appear from the statement that anyone had been specifically charged in Siddiqui’s death, however.
"I fully support and endorse these initial actions," Neller said in a prepared statement. “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. Simply stated, the manner in which we make Marines is as important as the finished product.”
He added: "We mourn the loss of Recruit Siddiqui, and we will take every step necessary to prevent tragic events like this from happening again."
Although the initial statement from the Marine Corps made no mention of it, a story breaking the news of the reports’ conclusions in the Wall Street Journal cited unnamed Marine officials as saying a drill instructor “allegedly physically abused” Siddiqui and “referred to him as a terrorist.”
From early on, Siddiqui’s death has raised red flags for his family and supporters, who questioned the initial report that he had committed suicide. A lawyer for the family, Nabih Ayad, told the Detroit Free Press in April that they found the initial report — that Siddiqui had jumped over a wall to his death after being slapped awake during daytime training — hard to believe.
A copy of the report was provided to the family but was not immediately available publicly, according to officials. Meanwhile, Dingell said she plans to visit Parris Island this weekend to meet with new leadership there “and learn about the changes that are being implemented to ensure a tragedy like this never happens again.”
“Private Siddiqui was a son, brother and class valedictorian who believed this country represented freedom and opportunity. As a young Muslim man, he truly understood the value of freedom of religion, and all he wanted was to defend the ideals our nation holds dear,” said Dingell. “This is the very least the Siddiqui family — and the thousands of families across our country whose children serve in uniform – deserve.”
Follow Todd Spangler on Twitter: @tsspangler; contributing: Jim Michaels, USA TODAY, Niraj Warikoo, Detroit Free Press