A high-ranking former Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island training commander — relieved of command following a recruit’s death — faced a preliminary hearing Monday that could send his case to the highest level of military court.
Lt. Col. Joshua Kissoon, former 3rd Recruit Training Battalion commander at Parris Island, appeared Monday at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., for an Article 32 hearing regarding three alleged violations of military code: failure to obey an order, making false statement and conduct unbecoming an officer.
Marine Corps Training and Education Command — the unit that’s been handling the investigations and courts-martial related to allegations of recruit abuse and hazing within 3rd Battalion — would not specify the exact nature of the allegations because of the preliminary nature of the hearing. If and when Kissoon’s case is referred to a court-martial, TECOM will provide more specific information about the charges, spokesperson Capt. Joshua Pena said Monday afternoon.
Kissoon was relieved of command shortly after the death of former 3rd Battalion recruit Raheel Siddiqui, who perished after falling three stories March 18, 2016, at the depot following an altercation with a drill instructor. Parris Island officials announced Kissoon’s relief March 31, 2016, but said that decision was made the day before Siddiqui died.
Kissoon’s preliminary hearing could send his case to a general court-martial, the highest-level military trial. He is the highest-ranking officer to face possible court-martial in the wake of the depot’s hazing scandal, according to Pena.
One lawyer representing Kissoon, according to Pena, is Colby Vokey, a retired Marine Corps lieutenant colonel. As NPR reported in 2007, Vokey has been involved “in some of the military's hottest legal cases,” including the Haditha, Iraq, murder investigation and the handling of detainees at Guantanamo Bay. The Military Times reported that he also represented Oscar-winning filmmaker Mark Boal in the summer of 2016 when the military sought Boal’s transcripts from his interviews with Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who is charged with desertion after abandoning his post in Afghanistan, and being captured by the Taliban.
Vokey could not immediately be reached for comment Monday afternoon; the hearing was still in progress, according to Pena.
Col. Paul Cucinotta — Kissoon’s former boss, who relieved him of command — is the highest-ranking Marine to be punished following the scandal; Cucinotta was relieved of command last June.
In September, the Corps announced that 20 Parris Island personnel could face criminal charges or other punishment related to hazing and recruit abuse. All were 3rd Battalion personnel.
To date, according to Pena, 11 have received administrative disciplinary actions, which can include reliefs of command.
Seven Marines — six of whom have either faced or are facing courts-martial, plus Kissoon — have had charges “referrred” or “preferred” against them. One of those men, Sgt. Riley R. Gress, was found not guilty of maltreatment, failure to obey a lawful order and making a false official statement at a recent court-martial in Quantico. Gress was the first to stand trial.
And two Marines “have been found to have no substantiated allegations against them,” Pena wrote in an email Monday morning.
On Friday, Military.com reported that two Parris Island drill instructors were back at work after being cleared of any wrongdoing.
“I actually individually, personally, handed them their campaign cover back,” depot commander Brig. Gen. Austin E. Renforth told that publication. “And they cried like babies on me. It was really emotional. I’m sort of getting caught up thinking about it.”
Renforth said the Corps “cast a pretty wide net” in investigating and sitting out the depot’s drill instructors. He did not say what information led the Corps to clear the two instructors.
Gunnery Sgt. Joseph A. Felix and Sgt. Michael K. Eldridge will face general courts-martial — the highest-level military court — at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C., this summer.
Eldridge will tried for his alleged role in an incident in which a Muslim recruit was reportedly ordered into a commercial clothes dryer — which was repeatedly turned on — while being questioned about his faith and loyalty.
Felix is also accused of being involved in that incident and has been charged in connection with the death of Siddiqui.
Shortly before he died, Siddiqui, a 20-year-old Taylor, Mich., native, was reportedly disciplined and slapped in the face by a drill instructor.
And at some point before his death, he was allegedly called a “terrorist” by that drill instructor.
Kissoon’s Article 32 hearing continued well into Monday afternoon. Pena said the hearing parties were trying to wrap up the process, but that another day might be necessary.
If Kissoon faces a court-martial, Brig. Gen. Kevin M. Iiams, TECOM’s new commander, will be the convening authority, Pena said. Iiams replaced Maj. Gen. James W. Lukeman, who himself assumed a new command.
There is no timetable as to when a decision regarding Kissoon’s case will be made, Pena said.