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Update: Hearing set for USMC drill instructor linked to Siddiqui’s death

The flag-draped casket containing the body of former Marine recruit Raheel Siddiqui is shown at a funeral service on March 25, 2016, near Taylor, Mich., Siddiqui’s hometown.
The flag-draped casket containing the body of former Marine recruit Raheel Siddiqui is shown at a funeral service on March 25, 2016, near Taylor, Mich., Siddiqui’s hometown.

This story has been updated March 13, 2017, to reflect the correct charges against Staff Sgt. Jose Lucena-Martinez.

Almost a year after the death of Muslim-American recruit Raheel Siddiqui at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, a drill instructor will face a preliminary hearing over his alleged involvement in the incident.

Marine Corps Training and Education Command confirmed Friday that an unnamed gunnery sergeant has been charged with multiple violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, including: cruelty and maltreatment; drunk and disorderly and obstruction of justice; failure to obey an order; and making false statements.

Those charges are “related to allegations associated with (the death of) Raheel Siddiqui” and a 2015 incident when a different Muslim-American recruit was put into a commercial dryer and interrogated about his faith and loyalty, according to Corps spokesperson Capt. Joshua Pena.

The gunnery sergeant’s Article 32 hearing — the outcome of which could send the case before the highest level military court, a general court-martial — is scheduled for March 16 at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune.

In a statement to The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette on Friday, Siddiqui family attorney Shiraz Khan said, “The Siddiqui family does not believe that the charges that are being brought forth accurately justify an explanation of what happened to their son. ...

“Simply put, the charges appear to be insufficient and do not address the magnitude of the torture, assault, abuse, hazing, neglect and maltreatment endured. ... The initial USMC Command Investigation itself identified several UCMJ violations by many individuals on multiple levels of command.”

In the wake of Siddiqui’s death, a Marine Corps investigation found a drill instructor to have “forcefully slapped” Siddiqui in the face “between one and three times” after the recruit fell to the floor, shortly after he was forced to run a series of “get-backs” — sprints across the length of his barracks. Siddiqui was reportedly sick at the time and trying to request permission to get medical treatment. Moments later, Siddiqui is reported to have to stood up, run out the back of the barracks and jumped over the third-story railing to his death. The drill instructor is also reported to have called Siddiqui a “terrorist” during his 11 days on the island — he arrived at the depot March 7, 2016, and died 11 days later.

The Corps has ruled his death a suicide. Siddiqui’s family disputes that claim.

The drill instructor should not have been supervising Siddiqui’s platoon, the Corps said, because he was under investigation for the earlier dryer incident, which occurred when he was assigned to Lima Company, 3rd Recruit Training Battalion.

A second drill instructor is also being charged for his alleged role the dryer incident. That Marine, also unnamed, has been charged with: cruelty and maltreatment; drunk and disorderly; failure to obey an order; and making false statements. His Article 32 hearing is scheduled for March 17 at Camp Lejeune.

Troy Weaver, father of Thomas Jacob Weaver — a former Lima Company 2015 recruit who witnessed abuse and hazing during his time on Parris Island — said his son likely would be called as a witness at some point, but not for upcoming Article 32 hearings.

The elder Weaver said his son had supplied a written witness statement to prosecutors. He said his family was notified a couple of weeks ago about the upcoming hearings, and that he plans to travel with his son whenever he’s called to testify.

In the wake of Siddiqui’s death, three Corps investigations — one into his death, a “red dot” inquiry prompted by the White House and an older investigation that began in 2015 — uncovered widespread recruit abuse, hazing and leadership failings.

In September, the Corps announced that up to 20 drill instructors and leadership personnel could face charges. The first of those charges came in December.

Former drill instructor, Staff Sgt. Antonio Burke, had his Article 32 hearing in January. He initially was accused of cruelty and maltreatment, failing to obey an order and making a false statement, but more charges — “wrongful appropriation” and “general article” — have since been added, according to Friday’s news release.

Recruits testified at his hearing that they were called names, forced to do calisthenics in a dusty building — called “the Dungeon” — and made to help a drill instructor with his homework during recruit training on Parris Island.

Burke’s case is not related to Siddiqui’s death, the Corps said.

Neither are special courts-martial cases — intermediate level trials — against Staff Sgt. Matthew T. Bacchus, Sgt. Riley R. Gress and Staff Sgt. Jose Lucena-Martinez.

Bacchus is accused of maltreatment, violating an order and making a false statement. His trial dates are April 10-14, according to Friday’s release.

Lucena-Martinez is accused of failure to obey an order and making a false statement. His trial dates are May 15-19.

Gress is accused of cruelty and maltreatment, failure to obey an order and making a false statement. He’ll stand trial May 22.

The scandal in the wake of Siddiqui’s death has garnered international attention.

In the San Diego Union-Tribune, retired Lt. Col. Kate Germano, who oversaw training for female recruits at the depot, called Siddiqui’s death — and findings of hazing and recruit abuse stemming from three investigations related to it — “the biggest recruit training scandal since the drowning of six recruits in 1956,” when a drunken drill instructor took a platoon on a punitive nighttime march into Ribbon Creek.

Siddiqui was a 20-year-old Pakistani-American from Taylor, Mich. His teachers at Harry S. Truman High School said he was intelligent, a student-leader, and kind and gentle person. It’s been widely reported that he joined the Corps to work on helicopters and airplanes, with the eventual goal of being an FBI agent.

“It’s almost been a year,” Khan said in an email Thursday evening.

“It is absolutely horrifying, but for the Siddiqui family, it’s their reality.”

Wade Livingston: 843-706-8153, @WadeGLivingston


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