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USMC: Recruit’s death a suicide; 20 training personnel face possible action in 3 investigations

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The Marine Corps says the death of recruit Raheel Siddiqui was a suicide, and three command investigations at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island have revealed troubling behaviors and lapses there.

“Currently, 20 Recruit Training Regiment personnel have been identified for possible military justice or administrative action,” according to a statement from Marine Corps Headquarters released Thursday afternoon.

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There are no official charges yet, according to a Marine Corps official speaking on background.

The findings of the investigations have been endorsed by Maj. Gen. James W. Lukeman, commanding general, Training and Education Command, but must be reviewed by the Corps’ legal affairs division before any charges are recommended. That process “could take months,” according to the official, who said the charges would then be submitted to Lukeman for his review and endorsement.

One of the investigations was a “red dot” investigation, according to the official. That type is initiated by a letter of inquiry from the White House.

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Another investigation dates back to 2015, when multiple drill instructors were accused of misconduct — including some who were accused of “racially motivated hazing,” the official said. One of those instructors was improperly assigned — he wasn’t supposed to be supervising recruits while he was under investigation — to Siddiqui’s training battalion. The Marine Corps official could not confirm or deny if that instructor had been previously alleged to have engaged in racially motivated hazing.

The third investigation was directly related to Siddiqui’s death, but it brought other concerns to light, the official said. Specifically, it found allegations of drill instructors under the influence of alcohol while on duty; a “lack of clarity” in the process and procedures for reporting recruit abuse; and inconsistencies in how a recruit’s suicidal ideations were addressed.

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Siddiqui died on March 18. The Taylor, Mich., native suffered a nearly 40-foot fall at the depot. His parents are skeptical his death was a suicide.

His death is still being investigated by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, agency spokesperson Ed Buice said Thursday afternoon.

In the wake of Siddiqui’s death, two high-ranking officers and a sergeant major were relieved of command.

And, in late June, the Corps announced the investigations into the conduct of 15 drill instructors and “affiliated leadership” at the depot.

“Commanders and senior enlisted advisers 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,” the Corps statement said.

The investigations found:

▪  Recurrent physical and verbal abuse of recruits by drill instructors, with a noted insufficiency of oversight and supervision at various command levels.

▪  Improper assignment of a drill instructor for duty while under investigation for previous allegations of assault and hazing.

▪  Maltreatment of new drill instructors by more experienced drill instructors.

▪  Gaps in awareness by commanders regarding their roles within the command investigation process.

▪  Anomalies and inconsistencies in the policies and procedures responding to suicidal ideations or statements.

In response to those findings, Training and Education Command has taken the following actions:

▪  Mandatory suspension of personnel who are being investigated for recruit abuse, hazing or maltreatment.

▪  Additional visibility and reviews of investigations above the regimental level.

▪  Modification of the assignment process for drill instructors and officers.

▪  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).

▪  Establish and enforce a zero-tolerance policy for “hat-hazing” (hazing among drill instructors).

▪  Increased officer presence and supervision of training.

▪  Review and revise mental health processes, procedures and suicide prevention protocols.

“I fully support and endorse these initial actions,” said Gen. Robert Neller, commandant of the Marine Corps.

“When America’s men and women commit to becoming Marines, we make a promise to them. We pledge to train them with firmness, fairness, dignity and compassion. Simply stated, the manner in which we make Marines is as important as the finished product. Recruit training is, and will remain, physically and mentally challenging so that we can produce disciplined, ethical, basically-trained Marines,” said Neller.

“We mourn the loss of Recruit Siddiqui,” Neller added, “and we will take every step necessary to prevent tragic events like this from happening again.”

U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., who’s written to Neller concerning the Corps’ investigation of Siddiqui’s death, plans to be on Parris Island this week.

“Today’s announcement by the Marine Corps is a first step in ensuring the family of Pvt. Raheel Siddiqui receives the answers they deserve and that the Marine Corps is addressing the serious issues that led to this tragedy,” Dingell said in a statement Thursday afternoon.

“I am grateful for the seriousness with which the Marine Corps has carried out this investigation to date, but it is critical that the process continue to be conducted in a manner that is thorough and ensures all those who are responsible are held accountable.

“Pvt. Siddiqui was a son, brother and class valedictorian who believed this country represented freedom and opportunity. As a young Muslim man, he truly understood the value of freedom of religion, and all he wanted was to defend the ideals our nation holds dear.

“This weekend, I will visit Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island to see firsthand the recruit training process, meet with the new leadership and learn about the changes that are being implemented to ensure a tragedy like this never happens again.”

Wade Livingston: 843-706-8153, @WadeGLivingston