Marines confront culture of hazing in wake of trainee's suicide

Some of the 20 commanders and senior enlisted leaders who were part of the trainee's battalion have already been removed from their posts, including the three most senior leaders.

Investigations sparked by the suicide of a US Marine Corps trainee, who fell nearly 40 feet in a stairwell, found a culture of verbal and physical abuse at the Parris Island training facility in South Carolina. A report released Thursday criticized commanders for turning a blind eye to abusive practices.

The report resulted from a six-month investigation into the death of Raheel Siddiqui, a 20-year-old Pakistani-American Muslim man from Taylor, Mich., who had told his relatives he wanted to serve his country and had been training for barely two weeks before he died on March 18. Marine officials said that on March 13 he reported that he wanted to commit suicide, according to The Washington Post. The attorney for his family, Nabih Ayad, has said that they had "always suspected hazing of some sort" in connection with his death.

“Today’s announcement by the Marine Corps is a first step in ensuring the family of Private Raheel Siddiqui receives the answers they deserve and that the Marine Corps is addressing the serious issues that led to this tragedy,” Rep. Debbie Dingell (D) of Michigan told the Post. “This is the very least the Siddiqui family – and the thousands of families across our country whose children serve in uniform – deserve.”

Representative Dingell pushed for accountability after Mr. Siddiqui’s death and introduced a bill to ease hazing, which has been an ongoing problem for every branch of the US military for decades.

"It goes on in all the services. It goes on in other countries' services," David Segal, of the University of Maryland's Center for Research on Military Organization, told The Christian Science Monitor in 1997. "It gets people to identify with the organization." He told the Monitor that the military had been trying to rein in abuse, and that had resulted in "less sadism."

The investigative report released Thursday did not mention Siddiqui by name, but it described an incident that appeared to be related to his death. The report describes an unnamed recruit who wrote a note to his drill instructor on March 18 complaining of a sore throat and asking to go to the infirmary. In response, the recruit was forced to run back and forth in his barracks, the report said, because he didn't follow proper procedure.

In the process, the man fell to the floor clutching his throat and crying, the report said. His superior ordered him to get up and slapped him in the face. After this, the man ran out the door and threw himself over a third-floor railing, according to the investigation.

It also found "recurrent physical and verbal abuse of recruits by drill instructors," and a lack of oversight by officers. New drill instructors were even abused by more senior ones, a known practice dubbed "hat hazing" because of the iconic flat-brimmed hats worn by the instructors.

It’s not clear whether Siddiqui’s religious background played a role in how he was treated by his superiors. But this was a primary question in the investigation, according to reporting by The Wall Street Journal. According to the Journal, Siddiqui’s supervisor, an unnamed senior drill instructor, was already known for hazing minority recruits. He allegedly put another Muslim recruit in a clothes dryer and made racist remarks, according to several Marine officials who spoke with the Journal.

Some of the 20 commanders and senior enlisted leaders who were part of Siddiqui’s battalion have already been removed from their jobs, including the three most senior leaders. The rest have been ordered to be temporarily relieved. The Military could impose administrative punishments, such as counseling or, more severely, military charges and courts-martial.

Formal charges have not yet been made. A preliminary hearing must first be held, according to military law, to decide whether each individual in the case deserves additional administrative or judicial action. The individuals would not be identified unless they are formally charged, which could take weeks to months.

This report contains material from the Associated Press.

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