A former Parris Island battalion commander will face a general court-martial on charges stemming from incidents leading up to the death of Muslim recruit Raheel Siddiqui last year.
Lt. Col. Joshua Kissoon is the highest ranking Marine and the only officer to be referred to a court-martial in connection with investigations into abuse and hazing at the Corps' East Coast recruit depot at Parris Island in South Carolina.
Kissoon faces charges of failure to obey a lawful general order, making a false official statement and conduct unbecoming an officer, Training and Education Command announced on Thursday.
Those chargers came after Kissoon was fired as commander of Parris Island's 3rd Recruit Training Battalion on March 31, 2016, according to TECOM.
Kissoon was the battalion commander for Gunnery Sgt. Joseph Felix, who is accused of mistreating and slapping Siddiqui in the face on March 18, 2016, right before Siddiqui bolted to a nearby stairwell and leaped nearly 40 feet to his death. Felix also faces a general court-martial scheduled for August.
At Kissoon's June 5 Article 32 hearing, witnesses recalled that Parris Island commanders had a "holy crap" moment the morning after Siddiqui's death. They realized that Felix was not supposed to be training recruits because he was still under investigation for a separate incident the year before, in which he was accused of ordering another Muslim recruit to sit in a commercial dryer and turning it on several times while taunting the recruit about his religion.
Col. Paul Cucinotta, then commander of Parris Island's Recruit Training Regiment, testified that he asked Kissoon why Felix was in Siddiqui's platoon.
"Why didn't we talk about this?" Cucinotta asked him.
"Had we talked about it, I would have tried to convince you to let him go back," Kissoon said, according to Cucinotta's testimony.
Prosecutors claimed that Kissoon made a series of decisions that resulted in Felix returning to his post as a senior drill instructor despite verbal and written orders from Cucinotta that Felix not work directly with recruits again until the investigation into Felix was completed.
In December 2015, Cucinotta had signed Recruit Training Order 1306.4J, which specifically stated that any Marine facing adjudication or under investigation must receive the approval of the regimental commander to be reassigned.
After the incident, Felix was assigned to work as a logistics chief. It is unclear exactly how Felix became a senior drill instructor again. At the time, witnesses said, Kissoon repeatedly checked with the regiment on the status of the dryer investigation. Kissoon's battalion was short-staffed and missing a senior staff non-commissioned officer in a key position, according to the testimony in June.
Siddiqui arrived at Parris Island on March 7, 2016, and was assigned to the 3rd Recruit Training Battalion. Six days later, Siddiqui threatened to kill himself because he "could not handle' drill instructors yelling at him and hitting him," according to an investigation into his death.
Siddiqui was removed from recruit training temporarily and put on a suicide watch but was improperly returned to training soon afterward, the investigation found.
The investigation also found that drill instructors in the 3rd Recruit Training Battalion "routinely used excessive force" by slapping and choking recruits.
On the day he died, Siddiqui handed his drill instructors a note explaining that he could not speak because he had a sore throat.
"This recruit has to go to medical," the note said. "This recruit's throat has been swollen for 3 days and is getting worse. When this recruit drinks and eats, it hurts and has trouble. This recruit also coughed blood a few times last night. And this recruit completely lost his voice and can barely whisper. This recruit's whole neck is in a lot of pain."
Instead, Siddiqui was made to run to one end of the squad bay and back because a drill instructor was angry that he could not report or give the greeting of the day. Eventually, Siddiqui fell to the floor. That is when Felix allegedly slapped him, prompting the recruit to jump to his death.
Siddiqui's death was officially ruled a suicide, even though an investigation could not determine whether he was trying to kill himself or just get away from Felix when he vaulted over the barracks stairwell.
U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, who represents Siddiqui's family in Michigan, has urged the civilian officials who determined that Siddiqui's killed himself to change the cause of death to "undetermined" or "pending."
"While we will never know what happened, I am convinced he did not intend to kill himself that day, which is the definition of suicide," Dingell, a Democrat, wrote in a May 9 letter to the coroner and medical examiner. "Since the suicide determination, the family has experienced grave emotional stress and irreparable damages, both personally and within the community at large."