The death of Raheel Siddiqui has raised questions about how recruits are trained at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island.
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Here’s what we know about the circumstances of Siddiqui’s death and the investigations surrounding it.
Siddiqui, 20, a Muslim American of Pakistani descent from Taylor, Mich., died March 18 after a nearly 40-foot fall on Parris Island.
He was assigned to Company K, 3rd Recruit Training Battalion.
Lt. Col. Joshua Kissoon was his battalion commander and Kissoon’s boss, Col. Paul D. Cucinotta, oversaw the entirety of recruit training. Both officers have since been relieved.
The Corps deemed Siddiqui’s death a suicide. His family disputes that and says he was targeted and intentionally abused. The Naval Criminal Investigative Service continues to investigate, but does not suspect foul play.
Three command investigations linked to his death discovered a culture of hazing and recruit abuse at the depot:
▪ The first investigation began in November 2015 and looked at 15 drill instructors and “affiliated leadership” accused of misconduct. The inquiry centered on 3rd Recruit Training Battalion.
▪ The second focused on Siddiqui’s death.
▪ The third, which began on May 2, was a “red dot” investigation prompted by the White House — after it received an anonymous letter alleging recruit abuse and mistreatment in a platoon — not Siddiqui’s — in 3rd Recruit Training Battalion.
What we know
Collectively, there were five key findings and seven recommendations from those investigations.
The investigations found:
1) Recurrent physical and verbal abuse of recruits by drill instructors, with a noted insufficiency of oversight and supervision at various command levels.
▪ The “red dot” inquiry focused on a specific drill instructor team — four to five people, according to Corps officials — and found they fostered an environment that led to “unauthorized incentive training,” according to the Corps. They were found to have hazed recruits, and to have encouraged recruits to haze each other.
• The inquiry “reinforced” the findings surrounding the “permissive atmosphere for hazing and abuse” that developed under Kissoon’s leadership of 3rd Battalion.
▪ Here’s what Parris Island’s Recruit Training Order says about hazing, according to depot spokesperson Capt. Greg Carroll: “There is no place for hazing in the Marine Corps, to include during recruit training. Hazing has never been in keeping with the good order and discipline demanded of Marines. Any Marine found guilty of hazing through appropriate legal proceedings will be held accountable for their actions.”
2) Improper assignment of a drill instructor for duty while under investigation for previous allegations of assault and hazing.
▪ A drill instructor was assigned to Siddiqui’s platoon while under investigation for ordering another Muslim recruit into a clothes dryer and interrogating him about his loyalties and religion.
▪ The same drill instructor allegedly made Siddiqui perform “get-backs” — running the length of the squad bay and back — when the recruit failed to properly report as he sought permission to go for medical care for a sore throat. Siddiqui reportedly fell to the floor as he cried and clutched his throat and soon became, apparently, unresponsive.
▪ The drill instructor allegedly slapped Siddiqui in the face between one and three times before the recruit jumped up, ran out of the squad bay and leapt to his death.
▪ The drill instructor allegedly called Siddiqui a “terrorist” at some point during his training.
3) Maltreatment of new drill instructors by more experienced drill instructors.
4) Gaps in awareness by commanders regarding their roles within the command investigation process.
5) Anomalies and inconsistencies in the policies and procedures responding to suicidal ideations or statements.
▪ In terms of responding to suicide or suicidal thoughts, the current version of the Recruit Training Order specifies, according to Carroll: “Any recruit that makes a self-harm attempt or verbalizes any thoughts about self harm will immediately be taken to the Mental Health Unit” — at the depot — “during working hours or the Beaufort Memorial Hospital emergency room during non-working hours for an immediate evaluation and safety screening.”
▪ The mental health unit is open from 6:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Friday, and from 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays, according to Lisa Lill, spokesperson for Naval Hospital Beaufort.
▪ Siddiqui reportedly told drill instructors on the morning of Sunday, March 13, he wanted to kill himself. When asked how he would do it, he said he would jump out of the squad bay window, according to Corps officials.
▪ Parris Island personnel called EMS and requested Siddiqui be transported to Beaufort Memorial. That request was denied, based on a consultation with EMS personnel and because Siddiqui had not attempted to harm himself.
▪ He was assigned a “shadow watch” recruit, who was ordered to stay with him at all times. He recanted his suicidal statement. He was moved to a neighboring squad bay, where he spent the night.
▪ The next day, he was taken to meet with the Recruit Liaison Section — a unit tasked with, among other things, encouraging recruits who are having difficulties to resume training — before meeting with a psychologist. Siddiqui again recanted his suicidal statement, according to Corps officials. The psychologist deemed him at low risk of harming himself and recommended he be eased back into training.
▪ The Recruit Liaison Section does not appear in the Recruit Training Order’s section governing response to suicide and suicidal thoughts, according to Carroll.
In response, the Corps’ Training and Education Command has taken the following actions:
1) Mandatory suspension of personnel who are being investigated for recruit abuse, hazing or maltreatment.
▪ On June 29, the Corps announced its investigation of 15 drill instructors that dated back to November. “Interim corrective actions have already been taken,” a Corps news release said. “All Marines under investigation are currently assigned to duties that do not involve direct access to recruits.”
▪ On Sept. 8, when the initial findings of the three command investigations were announced, Corps officials said: “Commanders and senior enlisted advisors at the series, company, battalion and regimental level were relieved in the wake of Recruit Siddiqui's death and a number of drill instructors have been suspended. Currently, twenty Recruit Training Regiment personnel have been identified for possible military justice or administrative action.”
2) Additional visibility and reviews of investigations above the regimental level.
3) Modification of the assignment process for drill instructors and officers.
4) The cessation of any practice that is based on differentiating between drill instructors of differing experience levels (with the exception of the Senior Drill Instructor billet).
5) Establish and enforce a zero-tolerance policy for “hat-hazing” (hazing among drill instructors).
6) Increased officer presence and supervision of training.
▪ Corps officials said the numbers of officers could increase and their presence at events — that officers might not have attended in the past — could also rise. Also referenced were “assistant series commanders,” who would be tasked with helping series commanders — those officers responsible for overseeing drill instructors and training at the company level — with their duties.
▪ During a Sept. 7 discussion with a group of series commanders, depot commander Brig. Gen. Austin E. Renforth was asked how the presence of assistant series commanders would affect relationships between series commanders and drill instructors. Renforth said the assistant-series-commander role was an opportunity for officers to better learn and execute their duties.
7) Review and revise mental health processes, procedures and suicide prevention protocols.
The Recruit Training Order is being reviewed alongside Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego’s policies and procedures. Renforth called it a “mirroring” process on Sept. 7, with the goal of standardizing recruit training within the Marine Corps.
Meanwhile, the Corps’ legal division is reviewing the findings of the command investigations and will begin to recommend charges. Any charges must then be reviewed and approved by Maj. Gen. James W. Lukeman, commander of Training and Education Command.
Currently, no Marines have been formally charged with wrongdoing.