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Marine Corps drill instructor accused of slapping recruit who leapt to his death to face court-martial

April 5, 2017 (Photo Credit: Sgt. Jennifer Schubert/Marine Corps)
A Parris Island drill instructor accused of slapping a Muslim recruit shortly before he leapt to his death and separately ordering another Muslim recruit to sit in a commercial dryer will face a general court-martial, according to Training and Education Command.

Gunnery Sgt. Joseph Felix faces charges of cruelty and maltreatment, drunk and disorderly conduct, failure to obey a lawful general order and obstruction of justice, TECOM announced Wednesday in a news release. This comes more than a year after the March 18, 2016, death of Raheel Siddiqui, 20, of the 3rd Recruit Training Battalion, who was killed at Parris Island after falling nearly 40 feet down a stairwell. 

Felix was one of Siddiqui’s drill instructors. Prior to Siddiqui’s death, Felix had been accused of making another Muslim recruit exercise in the shower and then ordering the recruit to sit in a commercial dryer, an investigation found. Felix is accused of turning the dryer on several times while taunting the recruit about his religion, such as asking if he took part in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Another drill instructor will also face a general court-martial for allegedly taking part in the dryer incident, but none of the charges against him stem from Siddiqui’s death, said TECOM spokesman Capt. Joshua Pena. Sgt. Michael Eldridge is accused of cruelty and maltreatment, being drunk and disorderly, making a false official statement and failure to obey a lawful general order, the TECOM news release said.

The two drill instructors are among the up to 20 Marines who could face disciplinary or administrative action stemming from allegations of abuse against Siddiqui and others. The investigation into Siddiqui’s death found that drill instructors in the 3rd Recruit Training Battalion would often slap and choke recruits, claiming the incidents of physical abuse were allowable “drill corrections.”

Five days before his death, Siddiqui threatened to kill himself, claiming he was being beaten by his drill instructors, according to the investigation, which also found Siddiqui was improperly returned to recruit training and his allegations were never properly reported.

On the day he died, Siddiqui handed his drill instructors a note saying he needed to go to medical because his throat had been swollen for three days; he had lost his voice and he started to cough up blood, the investigation found. Instead, Siddiqui was made to run from one end to the squad bay and back until he collapsed.

Felix is accused of slapping Siddiqui between one and three times while Siddiqui was on the floor, the investigation found. The evidence suggests that Felix was frustrated with Siddiqui instead of trying to revive him.

Siddiqui then got up, ran to the nearby stairwell, vaulted over the railing and fell uncontrollably, according to the investigation, which could not determine if he was trying to kill himself or just trying to get away from Felix. Although Siddiqui's death has been officially ruled a suicide, his family refuses to accept that finding.

“What happened to Private Siddiqui at Parris Island was more than a dereliction of duty — it was a tragedy that stole a son and a brother from his family and robbed a young man of his life and dream of serving the country he loved,” Rep. Debbie Dingell said in a statement on Wednesday.

Dingell, a Democrat who represents Siddiqui’s home district in Michigan, has been working with his family to determine what role hazing may have played in the circumstances surrounding Siddiqui's death.

“We will never know what happened that day, but it is very clear to me and others based on the facts revealed in the investigation that it was not Private Siddiqui’s intention to take his own life,” she said in the statement. “I will not stop working alongside his family and the Marine Corps until the determination is changed to more accurately reflect the events of that day so we can bring some measure of peace to the Siddiqui family.”
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