Marine recruit’s death uncovers pattern of abuse by some drill instructors

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- PHOTO TAKEN 06JAN05 - United States Marine Corps drill instructor yells at a recruit after wakeup attention detail in Parris Island, South Carolina, January 6, 2005. Recruits go through a twelve week training program where the objective is to instill self-discipline and confidence, high moral standards, warrior spirit, basic military knowledge and individual skills, physical fitness and wellness as a way of life, respect and love of Country and Corps.  More than 21,000 new Marines leave Parris Island each year after graduating from recruit training. Picture taken January 6, 2005. - RTXN651

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JUDY WOODRUFF: We turn to the revelations of abuse at the Marine Corps training facility at Parris Island, South Carolina.

An internal investigation that began after the death of a young recruit earlier this year has uncovered a larger pattern of hazing and abuse at the legendary facility.

The “NewsHour”‘s William Brangham, who’s recently been reporting at Parris Island, joins me now for more.

So, William, tell us about this investigation that’s been under way.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: As you mentioned, this whole investigation began when this 20-year-old Marine recruit, he was a man named Raheel Siddiqui. He was from Michigan.

He jumped off a third-floor balcony and fell to his death. The investigation that went into that death revealed that he had been physically abused by one of his drill instructors. He had had — the morning that he died, he went out and claimed that he had a sore throat and asked for a medical — to be sent to the doctor.

And his drill instructor apparently didn’t believe him and made him run laps up and down the barracks when they were sleeping. He then apparently wasn’t responding to his drill instructor appropriately, and so he was choked. He fell to the ground. And then his drill instructor apparently got over him and slapped him in the face at least once, perhaps three times, and which he jumped up at that point, ran out the back door and leapt off the balcony and fell to his death.

Now, the Marines have ruled this a suicide. His family believes he was targeted specifically and was abused intentionally. Apparently, this drill instructor involved in this had referred to this young man as a terrorist before.

The bigger thing that this investigation has revealed is that this particular drill instructor had been investigated prior to this for another instance of abuse on another Muslim recruit a year before, where he had apparently called this young man a terrorist also, had put him into a large commercial dryer, and run that dryer and burned the young recruit.

JUDY WOODRUFF: A clothes dryer?

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: A clothes dryer, huge — one of these large industrial dryers.

And so the family’s argument — and the Marines say, why was this man reassigned into this case? And so this investigation has just continued to unfold from there.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, you were just at Parris Island reporting on another story just in the last few weeks. Did you see any evidence of this kind of treatment of these recruits?

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: No, we saw nothing of the kind.

Producer Dan Sagalyn and I were down there. We were reporting a story about how women are now entering more combat roles in the Marine Corps. And we were following some female recruits. And we saw no evidence of anything like this.

We saw what a lot of civilians would look at as almost stereotypical Marine drill sergeant behavior. It’s rough and tough stuff, drill sergeants yelling at young recruits, making them run around, sometimes running to the point of exhaustion, a lot of chaos, a lot of screaming.

But that’s what the Marine Corps thinks of as its honored tradition of turning civilian into Corps. So, we saw no evidence of abuse whatsoever, nothing that’s alleged in this investigation.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You were telling me that there are still more allegations out there about the way recruits have been treated by these drill instructors.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: That’s right.

This investigation, which hasn’t been released to the public — we went to the Pentagon yesterday to read it for a few hours. This investigation revealed at least a dozen other drill instructors were involved in what the Marine Corps calls a fostering of a culture of abuse, so physically hitting recruits, encouraging other recruits to hit other recruits, choking of recruits, a real lack of oversight by officers looking into this.

It has blossomed into a much larger investigation in the Corps.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, you mentioned officers. Who is being held accountable for this at this point?

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Well, right now, no one has been criminally charged with any wrongdoing whatsoever.

Several people have been fired or dismissed. They have let go a colonel, a lieutenant colonel and a sergeant major. But, right now, the Marine Corps is still trying to decide who should be prosecuted, who might face a court-martial, what sort of disciplinary action.

But there are at least 20 Marines who are subject to possible further sanction for their actions in these cases.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You and I were also discussing the fact that, over years, there have been allegations made about what’s been going on at Parris Island.

Have they changed their techniques, the M.O., the way they operate in general over time?

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: The Marine Corps would say, yes, that they have been very diligent about this.

There was a notorious incident back in the ’50s where a drill instructor led a group of recruits into a very dangerous circumstance and several died. Reforms were made after that. There were also a series of reforms and training made after the end of the Vietnam era, when we moved from a draft to a more volunteer army.

With regards to these particular allegations, the biggest concern that we heard in talking to current Marines and former Marines is that the leadership failed in their job here, that this type of abuse shouldn’t have been allowed to fester and blossom the way it did.

And that’s really the most damning part of the investigation, is that the supervisory officers who should have been observing this activity really were absent and negligent of their duties.

JUDY WOODRUFF: It is such a disturbing story. And I know the reporting on it continues, as well as the investigation.

William Brangham, thank you.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Thank you.

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