White House: Abuse of dead Marine recruit ‘disturbing’

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — A White House spokesman called “disturbing” the graphic details of the hazing and abuse of a 20-year-old Marine recruit who died six months ago at Parris Island in South Carolina, saying the reports of misconduct must be “carefully and thoroughly investigated.”

“And that’s exactly what the Marine Corps is doing,” Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters Thursday, adding that President Barack Obama is concerned about ensuring that recruits are not subject to abuse.

Raheel Siddiqui, a Pakistani-American from Taylor, died March 18 after falling nearly 40 feet in a barracks stairwell. Siddiqui, who was Muslim, arrived at Parris Island less than two weeks earlier on March 7 for basic training, according to officials.

A drill instructor allegedly referred to Siddiqui as a terrorist and physically abused him, including forcing him into a clothes dryer and turning it on, according to the Wall Street Journal, which first reported on the findings of a Marine investigation.

The family of Siddiqui does not believe he committed suicide, saying he was targeted and intentionally abused.

“We believe there is a lack of material evidence needed to support ‘suicide’ as the most probable cause of death in this case,” family attorney Shiraz Khan said in a statement released Tuesday.

Marine officials found recurrent physical and verbal abuse of recruits by drill instructors; insufficient oversight and supervision at various command levels; and maltreatment of new drill instructors by veteran instructors.

The investigation identified as many as 20 officers and enlisted leaders for potential administrative or judicial action, which could include courts-martial. In a statement, the Marine Corps also said several commanders and enlisted leaders were relieved and a number of drill instructors were suspended.

No formal charges have been filed, according to a letter by Col. John A. Ostrowski, a legislative liaison for the Marines, to Democratic U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell of Dearborn. The findings of the investigations have been forwarded to military prosecutors “for review and the drafting of charges as warranted by evidence,” Ostrowski wrote.

He said at least six drill instructors whose conduct was reviewed during the investigation had contact with Siddiqui, and one of those was “improperly” assigned to Siddiqui’s platoon while still under scrutiny for previous misconduct.

Dingell visited Parris Island last weekend and met with Marine leadership. Joined by U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-California, Dingell spoke with the new commanding general at Parris Island, Brigadier Gen. Austin E. Renforth, and other senior officials about the steps they are taking to prevent similar incidents.

Dingell said the Marines are treating the matter with the “seriousness it deserves,” noting Renforth’s suspension of personnel under investigation for hazing and the addition of officers to oversee the recruit training.

“My heart aches for Private Siddiqui’s family. No matter what we do we can never bring him back, but we must ensure something good comes of this,” Dingell said. “The men and women who follow in his footsteps must receive fair treatment on their way to becoming our nation’s finest fighters.”

Asked at the White House whether Siddiqui’s experience was indicative of creeping Islamaphobia or hostility toward Muslims, Earnest didn’t answer directly, saying he didn’t want to be perceived as interfering in the Marines’ investigation or military justice proceedings.

“But I can certainly say with confidence that the commander-in-chief wants to ensure that young Americans who sign up to serve in our military are afforded the respect and fair treatment that they deserve, particularly considering the sacrifice that they’ve indicated they’re prepared to make for the country,” he said.

mburke@detroitnews.com

(202) 662-8736