A former drill instructor allegedly linked to the death of a Muslim-American recruit at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island has waived his right to a preliminary hearing, according to officials, the second Marine accused of high-profile recruit hazing and abuse to do so this month.
The former drill instructor, an as-yet unnamed gunnery sergeant, has been charged with multiple violations of military code, including cruelty and maltreatment and obstruction of justice. The charges, according to the Corps, stem from his alleged involvement in the death of Raheel Siddiqui and an incident involving a separate Muslim recruit who was reportedly put into a clothes dryer and interrogated.
The now-canceled hearing — an Article 32 that was scheduled for Thursday at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C. — would have, presumably, been the first time the gunnery sergeant’s name was released and allegations specific to him disclosed.
And it would have been the first public hearing for a Marine linked to Siddiqui’s death more than a year after the 20-year-old Taylor, Mich., recruit died from a three-story fall on March 18, 2016. That death came shortly after he was reportedly slapped in the face and, at some point during his brief time at the depot, was called a “terrorist.”
Siddiqui family attorney Shiraz Khan said the Corps notified him of the waived hearing and told him “the matter is promptly moving into the referral of charges phase.”
Despite the canceled hearing, the gunnery sergeant’s case could still be tried by general court-martial, the highest level of military justice.
“(Marine Corps Training and Education Command’s Maj. Gen. James W. Lukeman) will be making a decision without the preliminary hearing on whether to refer charges,” spokesperson Capt. Joshua Pena said Tuesday.
Lukeman could send the case to a general court-martial; send it to a lower-level special court-martial; or address the matter through administrative action, among other things, according to Pena. Lukeman will still see all the evidence, and he’s still able to modify, add or subtract charges.
And he can do the same with the case of another unnamed former drill instructor — charged with various violations ranging from cruelty to drunk and disorderly conduct for his alleged involvement in the dryer incident — who waived his Article 32 rights two weeks ago.
Beaufort attorney Brian Magee, who formerly served as a Marine Corps prosecutor on Parris Island, says he represents that sergeant and that his client waived his hearing rights so he could “get in front of a judge faster.”
“The fact that we waived the Article 32 is certainly not an admission that we think there’s any merit to the allegations,” Magee said Tuesday.
One of the benefits of an Article 32 is the ability cross-examine witnesses in a pre-trial setting, he said. But he and his client were informed that the government would not be calling any witnesses. Since he already has access to the same investigations the public and the media have, there would be nothing to gain — “a pointless exercise.”
“We feel the allegations against my client are unfounded,” Magee said, “and we look forward to demonstrating that in court.”
He also wondered why the Marine Corps Training and Education Command — known as TECOM — was directing the process, and why the proceedings weren’t taking place on Parris Island.
“As far as I’m aware, it’s unprecedented for the prosecution of a case to be taken away from Parris Island,” he said. When asked why he thought TECOM had assumed jurisdiction, he said: “We’d like to know that as much as you. That’s certainly a question we’re asking.”
The Island Packet and Beaufort Gazette asked the Corps why TECOM was directing the prosecutions, but the newspapers did not receive an answer by press time.
Beaufort attorney Jeff Stephens, who served both as a Marine Corps prosecutor and defense counselor on Parris Island, said he, too, was surprised Parris Island’s commander, Brig. Gen. Austin E. Renforth, wasn’t the “convening authority” — the role in which Lukeman serves — for these hearings.
He called the move “unprecedented” and said he could think of “no reason” why Renforth shouldn’t direct the proceedings.
And he worried that moving the cases away from Parris Island might mean Marines wouldn’t be judged by a jury of their peers — meaning personnel who serve as drill instructors or have intimate knowledge of recruit training.
Lukeman has the authority to pick the jurors, Stephens said, adding that he hoped the general wouldn’t “systemically exclude” jurors with recruit training experience.
“When people ask me about the military justice process, I always tell them the same thing: It’s as fair as the convening authority lets it be,” Stephens said. “The second the convening authority puts its fingers on the scales of justice, you have a problem.”
In September, the Corps said 20 drill instructors and leadership personnel could face military justice charges or administrative actions because of findings of widespread recruit abuse and hazing stemming from three investigations linked after Siddiqui’s death.
To date, two high-ranking officers and their sergeant majors have been relieved of command; three Marines are facing special courts-martial; and three other Marines, including the two mentioned in this article, have been afforded Article 32 hearings.
“It is our understanding that charges against any and all individuals linked to Raheel’s death are being deliberated at this time,” Khan said.