Judge in Marine recruit death suit urges settlement
A federal judge Thursday urged the two sides of a lawsuit involving a 20-year-old U.S. Marine who died during boot camp two years ago to try to resolve their differences without going to trial.
The attorney representing the parents of Raheel Siddiqui of Taylor, who died in March 2016 at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot at Parris Island in South Carolina, was in court Thursday to fight the government’s motion to dismiss their $100 million lawsuit claiming the military’s negligence contributed to their son’s death.
The lawsuit also claims Siddiqui was targeted because he was a Muslim.
U.S. District Judge Arthur J. Tarnow said during Thursday’s hearing he hoped the case could be settled without a lengthy trial. Tarnow asked Shiraz K. Khan, attorney for the Siddiqui family, whether his primary goal with the lawsuit was financial.
After Khan said the goal was justice, Tarnow asked assistant U.S. Attorney Zak Toomey: “Could this case be resolved by your client (the military) making an apology and a public acknowledgment of what happened? It doesn’t sound like the main goal is to get money.”
Tarnow told both sides: “Think about it ... I’m encouraging you to talk to each other.”
After the hearing, Khan said he’d likely reject any settlement based solely on an explanation and apology.
“With all that’s transpired in this case, and all that Raheel Siddiqui and his family have been through, I think a simple apology and acknowledgment of what really happened to him is short of reaching the threshold of justice,” Khan said.
Tarnow allowed Khan 30 days to file an amended complaint, and said he’d give Toomey 21 days to respond.
“I will give a decision (whether to grant the government’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit) hopefully 30 days after I get a response,” Tarnow said. “But I hope not to have to make a decision. Hopefully you’ll resolve this.”
The government filed the motion to dismiss the case in December, saying the federal civil court lacks jurisdiction over the matter.
The government argues the U.S. Supreme Court has long held that the military courts are the “exclusive avenue” for claims arising from injuries in military service, citing what’s known as the Feres doctrine, which holds that claims related to injuries to active duty military personnel are not actionable in civil courts.
“Recruits are awarded the rank of private in the active duty military and, even if recruits were not full members of the military, courts have consistently held that the Feres doctrine bars claims against the government for claims by students, trainees, and members of the military reserves,” an attorney for the government wrote in its brief.
On Thursday, Toomey reiterated that Siddiqui’s death happened while he was an active member of the military, and that the family is only entitled to death benefits awarded by the military.
The government, in its filing, said Siddiqui’s parents received a payment of $100,000 through the Marine Corps’ death benefits program, as well as $400,000 under the Servicemen’s Group Life Insurance program.
Khan said part of his claim involves lies the Marine recruiter told Siddiqui and his mother before he joined, and that, had the recruiter been honest about documented instances of abuse of Muslims at Parris Island, Siddiqui would likely not have signed up.
“This case is about a civilian and his mother, and the recruiter who, for financial gain, lied,” Khan told the judge. “The recruiter failed to inform them of the abuse and torture suffered by another (Muslim) recruit. When the negligence in this case began, he was a civilian.”
Siddiqui’s parents filed their lawsuit against the Marine Corps in October, alleging he was assaulted, hazed and discriminated against because of his Muslim faith. The suit alleges that military officials were negligent in failing to protect Siddiqui, who died after falling from the third floor of a building.
Siddiqui’s parents, Ghazala and Masood Siddiqui, further allege the government was negligent by quickly ruling their death was a suicide without a full investigation.
Siddiqui died after a confrontation with his drill instructor, Gunnery Sgt. Joseph A. Felix. Felix was sentenced to 10 years in military prison after a November court martial for abusing three Muslim recruits, including Siddiqui. Felix was found to have violated general orders by striking and choking recruits.
Felix was not charged in Siddiqui’s death, because it was ruled a suicide by the military. Siddiqui’s family insists their son did not kill himself, Khan said.
“It’s been in the papers and all over the place that this was a suicide,” Khan said. “(Siddiqui’s) family has been shunned, because in their faith, taking your own life is the biggest sin.”