The family of a Muslim Marine recruit who died during boot camp at Parris Island last year is suing the U.S. government for $100 million for their son’s death.
Raheel Siddiqui died on March 18, 2016, allegedly after falling three stories in an outdoor stairwell. He was 20 years old.
The suit, filed by The Shiraz Law Firm on behalf of Ghazala and Masood Siddiqui, claims the young recruit was targeted with hazing and abuse due to his religious affiliation. It also holds that the U.S. Marine Corps failed to address “recurrent physical and verbal abuse of recruits by drill instructors” and “fostered a culture of abuse and hazing.”
A representative for the U.S. Marine Corps said the military organization could not comment on ongoing litigation. The Corps has maintained that Siddiqui committed suicide, a conclusion his parents reject.
Siddiqui, the suit asserts, had no history of mental illness and had reportedly told his parents he was excited to become a Marine and said he wouldn’t quit “no matter how hard it is.”
An investigation conducted by the Corps and released several months after Siddiqui’s death found that the Michigan native had been hazed, physically abused and called “a terrorist” by his drill instructor. The heavily redacted report also said that Siddiqui threatened to kill himself several days before his death but later recanted the threat and was not hospitalized.
On the morning of March 18, 2016, the report said, Siddiqui had complained of a bleeding and sore throat but was refused medical attention and was forced to run laps in his barracks. The report stated that when Siddiqui collapsed, his drill instructor slapped the recruit to revive him. At this point, the report alleged that Siddiqui got up and sprinted to the end of the barracks, opened a door and jumped over the railing of an exterior stairwell. He reportedly fell three stories and died several hours later at a hospital.
The Corps said in a statement in September 2016 that “a number of drill instructors” had been suspended and that 20 personnel were identified for possible disciplinary action.
Two men connected with Siddiqui’s case face courts-martial, according to the Detroit Free Press. Gunnery Sgt. Joseph Felix, who was Siddiqui’s drill instructor, was already under investigation for allegedly abusing another Muslim recruit in 2015 by ordering him into a dryer and turning it on.
Lt. Col. Joshua Kissoon, who was the battalion commander, was accused of wrongly keeping Felix in charge of Siddiqui’s platoon despite his previous behavior toward a Muslim recruit.
The lawsuit filed by Siddiqui’s family claims Marine recruiters did not adequately inform him about possible hazing. It also raised questions about the reported time and cause of Siddiqui’s death.
“Medical evidence of the injuries sustained by Raheel Siddiqui are inconsistent with death resulting solely from a fall,” the suit states. “Suicide is not the most conclusive manner of death in this case.”
The New York Times also reported this summer that Siddiqui’s body had been returned to his parents covered in bruises:
A week after Raheel died, his body was sent back to his parents in Michigan. At the funeral home, the family stared down in horror at their son. His arms, chest, stomach and legs were purple. There were ligature marks, not unlike the ridges of a webbed military belt, around his neck, which had not been mentioned in the autopsy report. To Ghazala it looked as if her son had been tortured.
The lawsuit is requesting the U.S. government pay the Siddiqui family $100 million in damages. It may encounter difficulty, though, due to a U.S. Supreme Court decision known at the Feres Doctrine, which prevents those injured as a result of military service from suing the federal government.
Read a copy of the lawsuit below: