WASHINGTON — The U.S. Corps today said charges against a drill instructor linked to the death of a 20-year-old Muslim recruit from Taylor will move forward to a military trial, though they will not include the more serious charges the recruit’s family had wanted.
The Corps’ Training and Education Command, based in Quantico, Va., announced that Gunnery Sgt. Joseph Felix, who served as drill instructor to Raheel Siddiqui, will face a general court-martial on a charge of cruelty and maltreatment. A source with knowledge of the underlying allegations behind the charge said it was related to Siddiqui’s death at the ‘ Parris Island, S.C., training base on March 18 of last year.
Felix, whose name was publicly released for the first time, is accused of slapping Siddiqui just before he fell three stories from a stairwell at his barracks. An earlier investigation found that the drill instructor had verbally and physically abused Siddiqui, including calling him a “terrorist,” and that his actions just prior to Siddiqui’s death were directly linked to the fall, which a local coroner called a suicide, though his family rejects that.
Siddiqui’s family had earlier called for more severe charges and for the finding that Siddiqui committed suicide to be reversed. Their lawyer did not immediately comment on the charges being sent to trial. The said an arraignment for Felix will be scheduled at Camp Lejeune, N.C.
A source also told the Free Press that the sergeant will face two other counts of maltreatment related to other instances of alleged hazing, as well as accusations that he failed to obey orders, made a false statement and was drunk and disorderly, though the ‘ statement did not confirm that. A general court-martial is the legal venue the use for their most severe charges.
If found guilty of a cruelty and maltreatment charge involving Siddiqui, a former high school valedictorian who was less than two weeks into boot camp, the sergeant could face a dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of pay and confinement for up to two years. The other charges carry a variety of terms of confinement from six months to five years, as well as other penalties.
The earlier investigation also found that Felix should not have even been attached to Siddiqui’s training platoon, having already been part of an earlier probe into an incident in which he was accused of ordering another Muslim recruit into an industrial , turning it on and burning him.
A second drill instructor, Sgt. Michael Eldridge, also had charges referred for a general court martial related to hazing at Parris Island, including cruelty and maltreatment, making a false statement, drunk and disorderly conduct and failure to obey an order. It was believed that Eldridge’s allegations were linked to the earlier incident involving the other Muslim recruit.
Siddiqui’s family has rejected a finding by the local coroner in South Carolina that his death was a suicide, maintaining that he had shown no previous evidence of mental illness. The earlier investigation found that some days before his death, however, that Siddiqui had talked about committing suicide. He was returned to his platoon — improperly, according to the probe — after recanting.
Siddiqui also had apparently reported that he had been hit and physically abused but that report was never relayed up the chain of command, the investigation found. In the wake of Siddiqui’s death and the investigation into it and other incidents, some 20 personnel have been either relieved or suspended related to allegations of recruit hazing and abuse, pending disciplinary action. Four leaders on base have been removed as well.
Last month, the Free Press first reported that the were preparing to hold a preliminary hearing — known as an Article 32 hearing in military parlance — to decide whether the charges against the gunnery sergeant should move forward, but he waived that hearing late last week.
When the confirmed for the Free Press that the gunnery sergeant was being considered for charges that did not include assault as recommended by the earlier investigation, a lawyer for Siddiqui’s family said the Corps’ actions did not seem severe enough.
“The charges appear to be insufficient and do not address the magnitude of the torture, assault, abuse, hazing, neglect and maltreatment” to which Siddiqui was subjected, the family said through their lawyer, Shiraz Khan, at the time.
Contact Todd Spangler at 703-854-8947 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @tsspangler.
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