A recruit of the Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island training platoon had died following an alleged altercation with a drill instructor. Now former platoon members are testifying at the court-martial of Gunnery Sgt. Joseph Felix. The trial of the former Parris Island drill instructor of Platoon 3042, heard the first mention of the training environment inside the Platoon in regards to the death of recruit Raheel Siddiqui who subsequently jumped three stories to his death on March 18, 2016.
Five former members of the 3042 all testified to a pattern of physical abuse at the hands of Felix that went far beyond the training policy of allowable physical disciplines while two higher ranking members testified that they didn’t ever see the abuse towards Raheel Siddiqui.
Task and Purpose fills in the horrible details of the abuse perpetrated on recruits by Felix:
A few former recruits said Monday they witnessed Felix kick a recruit who was holding a foot locker, knocking that recruit to the floor. Another former recruit testified that Felix once grabbed him by the neck and pushed him up against the wall in the shower.
“My head made contact (against the wall) three separate times,” Lance Cpl. Tyler Stanley told the court Monday. “He told me he caught me smiling again and I should stop.”
The next day, Stanley recalled, Felix chided another recruit for smiling in the squad bay and implied that Stanley should show that recruit what happens to those who smile.
Stanley fake-choked the recruit.
“I put my hands around (the other recruit)’s neck …” Stanley testified. “I had an interlocking grip but did not squeeze. … Felix told me to keep doing it.” Another recruit, Stanley said, then finished the job before Felix told them to cut it out.
Felix faces multiples charges of violations of military law ranging from drunk and disorderly conduct to cruelty and maltreatment. Regarding 3042, he’s alleged to have hit recruits, kicked them, choked them, ordered them to choke each other and ordered them to choke themselves, according to a Marine Corps charge sheet that outlines the alleged misconduct.
Regarding Siddiqui, Felix is alleged to have called him a “terrorist” and asked the trainee if he “needed his turban,” according to the document.
Bryce Herman, who is a former member of 3042 and now a former Marine — no reason was given for his separation from the Corps — testified Monday that he once heard Felix refer to Siddiqui as a “terrorist” during a senior drill instructor talk when the recruits were gathered around Felix.
“(Siddiqui) smells like a terrorist,” Herman recalled Felix saying.
When asked by prosecution about Felix’s demeanor when delivering these statements, Herman replied, “I believe it was very serious, sir.”
Herman also testified that on March 18, 2016, the day of Siddiqui’s death, “I recall Recruit Siddiqui grabbing his (own) neck, but I don’t know why.” Herman said he saw Felix grab Siddiqui by the shirt, throw Siddiqui to the ground and then yank Siddiqui back up, but he could not remember what happened after that.
Lance Cpl. Marco Assuncao and Cpl. Brandon Yu, however, testified that they remember Felix referring to Siddiqui as a terrorist one time and then only in a joking manner.
Stanley testified that during a mail call Felix told the platoon to include Siddiqui, saying to the platoon, “It’s not like he’s a terrorist or something.”
On the day of Siddiqui’s death, Assuncao testified, Siddiqui fell to the floor while running a series of punitive sprints. He then saw Siddiqui hold his hands around his neck. Felix, Assuncao said, told Siddiqui to get up, but Siddiqui did not follow the order. “There were no sounds coming out of (Siddiqui’s) mouth or throat,” Assuncao told the court. Felix, he said, then said to Siddiqui “I need to know if you’re OK.” Assuncao then heard, but did not see, Felix slap Siddiqui.
The defense asked several of the former recruits Monday whether Felix had asked them to lie to NCIS. They said he did not.
Siddiqui is one of three Muslim recruits prosecutors say Felix “targeted.” The other men, Lance Cpl. Ameer Bourmeche and former Marine Rekan Hawez, were members of 3rd Recruit Training Battalion Platoons 3054 and 3052, respectively, in 2015. Both have testified that Felix called them “terrorist” and other inappropriate names, and that he ordered them into commercial clothes dryers; Bourmeche said he was burned when the dryer he was in was turned on.
Sgt. Michael Eldridge, a 3rd Recruit Training Battalion drill instructor who was also charged in connection with the Bourmeche case, testified against Felix on Friday as part of a plea agreement. On Monday, the judge reminded the jury that just because Eldridge intends to plead guilty, it does not mean that Felix is also guilty of those crimes.
Felix is also charged with obstruction, alleged to have told Siddiqui’s platoon mates — potential witnesses to his death — to keep the incident under wraps inside the barracks. Before the trial, a judge ruled to limit discussion of Siddiqui’s death to the obstruction charge, and to explain why the former recruit couldn’t physically be present to testify against Felix as it relates to allegations of maltreatment.
Siddiqui’s death and subsequent investigation soon turned into a hazing probe of 3rd Recruit Training Battalion that has resulted in the biggest scandal on Parris Island since the infamous Ribbon Creek incident, when six recruits drowned on a punitive nighttime march into the marsh ordered by their drill instructor, who’d been drinking.
In the case of Siddiqui, who was only at Parris Island for a total of 11 days before he jumped to his death, it will be a very in-depth trial that will no doubt take time to get through to the absolute facts of what actually happened. What we do know to be fact is that five days before his death, Siddiqui stated that he wanted to die and said quite clearly that he intended to jump from the squad bay window. He was sent for a mental health evaluation and he was deemed as “fit” and sent back to finish his training.
On March 18, 2016, Siddiqui claimed he was ill and attempted to get permission to go to medical. Records state that he “didn’t request permission appropriately.” Felix is accused of then ordering Siddiqui to run a harsh series of sprints across the entire length of the barracks where the recruit then collapsed and started clutching his throat. Witnesses say they did see Felix slap the recruit just before the recruit quickly got to his feet and then ran out and jumped over the stairwell.
Siddiqui died hours later at Medical University of South Carolina Hospital in Charleston. While the Corps originally ruled his death as a suicide, the family is consistently arguing that ruling and is now suing for $100 million in a federal lawsuit. They claim negligence on the government’s part, and they are questioning how rapidly the recruit’s death was ruled on under the questionable circumstances.
Task and Purpose reports that it is possible that a verdict and sentencing in the case could come as soon as Saturday, according to a Marine Corps official. The prosecution expects to hear from its last witness Wednesday. More than 75 witnesses are expected to have testified in this case.