An attorney representing the family of a Marine recruit who died at the Parris Island basic training installation earlier this year disputes an investigation that suggested the recruit committed suicide after pervasive hazing.
Last week, a report made public by the U.S. Marine Corps said 20-year-old Raheel Siddiqui (although he is not identified by name) jumped from a 40-foot stairwell on March 18, not long after he collapsed during a forced run inside his barracks. The report also said the Michigan native had been evaluated by a Navy psychologist after he told drill instructors only ten days earlier that he wanted to kill himself.
But his family does not believe the official conclusions. “We believe there is a lack of material evidence needed to support ‘suicide’ as the most probable cause of death in this case,” they said in a statement released to the Detroit Free Press by attorney Shiraz Khan. Khan noted that Marine personnel did not flag any psychological issues during Siddiqui’s recruitment process that would have disqualified him. “It’s impossible for his family and friends to accept that he took his own life.”
The Marine Corps Recruiting Depot at Parris Island serves as the military branch’s boot camp for all female recruits and male recruits who live east of the Mississippi River. Recruits spend 12 weeks on the island undergoing a difficult training regimen, with each battalion traditionally led by four drill instructors (better known as “drill sergeants). Siddiqui had been at the site for less than two weeks at the time of his death.
Investigators said Siddiqui, who was an American of Pakistani Muslim descent, had written a note to his drill instructor before je died, asking to go to the infirmary for a sore throat. The letter did not follow proper procedure and the instructor punished the recruit by forcing him to run back and forth across his barracks. The report said Siddiqui eventually collapsed to the floor, apparently unresponsive. The drill instructor yelled at him to get back up, even slapping him at one point. Instructors are not allowed to strike recruits.
The report said the recruit suddenly got to his feet and ran down the squad bay to the stairwell outside, before jumping over the railing. He died more than four hours later from what an autopsy deemed “blunt force trauma” likely due to suicide.
Investigators also found Siddiqui’s drill instructor had been accused of abuse directed towards another Muslim recruit the previous year. It noted accusations that the instructor called the other man a “terrorist” and even forced him to sit inside an clothes dryer as it operated. Marine Corps officials admitted the instructor should not have been supervising recruits while the investigation proceeded. He has since been suspended, but Corps superiors are not releasing his name until disciplinary action is taken.
The report found “inadequate leadership” meant procedures for recording abuse and hazing were not clear, and the commanders were not aware of their role in an investigation. Recruit Training Regiment commander Col. Paul Cucinotta was relieved of command in June along with senior enlisted officer Sgt. Maj. Nicholas Deabreu. Nearly 20 other officers and enlisted leaders at the base are facing discipline, but have not been identified publicly.
The Pentagon announced several new policy changes in response to the investigation. One new rule bans drill instructors from continuing to train recruits while under investigation. Officers are also now required to take a more active presence during training exercises to make sure instructors are following proper procedures.