A Muslim Marine said he was called a terrorist and ordered into an industrial clothes dryer multiple times by a drill instructor who then turned it on, burning him, according to investigative documents that provide new details about the alleged abuse of recruits at the service’s training center at Parris Island, S.C.
“You’re going to kill us all the first chance you get aren’t you, terrorist?” the drill instructor thundered at the recruit, the new Marine later alleged, according to the documents that have not been released publicly but were reviewed by The Washington Post. “What are your plans? Aren’t you a terrorist?”
The issue of hazing and abuse at Parris Island surfaced March 18, when a 20-year-old recruit with Pakistani roots — Raheel Siddiqui of Taylor, Mich. — died after leaping from a stairwell landing that was nearly 40 feet high while running away from the same drill instructor who used the dryer. The instructor had just slapped Siddiqui before he jumped. Siddiqui’s death drew public scrutiny to a culture of harsh punishments at Parris Island — one that Marine officials were already examining, the documents show.
Last week, service officials announced that 20 members of Parris Island’s staff could face criminal charges or administrative discipline following the conclusion of three investigations into various abuse allegations. But the documents raise questions about whether more Parris Island Marines could be implicated in the scandal.
Marine Commandant Gen. Robert B. Neller, addressing the abuse allegations last week, said in a statement that recruit training will remain physically and mentally challenging, but that the manner in which Marines are made is as important as the final product.
“When America’s men and women commit to becoming Marines, we make a promise to them,” he said. “We pledge to train them with firmness, fairness, dignity and compassion.”
Some details of the abuse have previously been reported, but the investigative documents describe an environment in which one unit in particular — 3rd Recruit Training Battalion — had drill instructors who not only tested recruits’ mettle, as is expected, but abused them physically and emotionally.
Ethnic and homophobic slurs were also used regularly, and drill instructors ordered repeated, unauthorized physical training that sometimes injured recruits. The drill instructors also sometimes were drunk on the job, bringing Fireball whiskey into work on at least one occasion, recruits told investigators.
In one case, a senior drill instructor who had seen a photograph of a recruit’s sister made him log into his Facebook account so he could request that she call Parris Island on the telephone. When she did, the drill instructor took the phone away from the recruit, introduced himself and said that he had heard she was single and wanted to know whether they could get to know each other. The drill instructor later denied it, but the sister corroborated the recruit’s story with copies of the Facebook messages, according to the documents.
The drill instructor involved in the dryer case, an unidentified sergeant, was allowed to continue training recruits after allegations of abuse were made, in part because Marine officials did not take the accusations seriously, one investigation found.
The alleged incident occurred in 2015, and was reported last November by the targeted Marine and two enlisted colleagues who by then had moved on to initial aviation training in Pensacola, Fla. The new Marine said he was also accused of participating in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
The former recruit said he was kept in the dryer long enough that his neck and arm started to burn and he began to cry, according to the documents.
Recruits who were abused were also warned that “snitches get stitches.” Instructors also bribed recruits with protein bars and other food to keep them quiet, according to the documents.
The allegations are highly sensitive for a service that has long prided itself on what it calls the transformative process of “making Marines.” And it has shocked drill instructors at the service’s only other enlisted training depot in San Diego.
“The atmosphere of recruit training is much different in San Diego,” said one Marine instructor there, who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation. “Officers and staff continuously walk around decks to keep eyes on drill instructors and recruits, as well as to ensure our [procedures] are followed as closely as possible. Recruit abuse is absolutely not tolerated here, and I’ve seen many drill instructors being held accountable and investigated for even minor infractions.”
Drill instructors are directed specifically to not discriminate against recruits on the basis of race or religion, and anyone who saw such discrimination should have stood up against it, a retired senior enlisted Marine said.
“Even back in the day when they were really brutal at Parris Island, I can’t imagine that happening. That’s abuse,” the Marine said when informed of the dryer incident. “It’s beyond me. We are entrusted to take care of those recruits and train them. There was clearly a breakdown in leadership at Parris Island.”
Parris Island’s most senior leaders have been aware of hazing problems since at least 2014, the documents show. In fact, one officer who took over 3rd Recruit Training Battalion came in with the perception that it was a major issue and removed so many Marines from their jobs that he created morale problems in his unit, the investigation found.
The officer’s name is redacted, but Marine officials identified him as Lt. Col. Joshua Kissoon, who was removed from his job in March. The documents describe him as a “toxic leader” whose “derisive attitude toward his company grade officers, and perceived self-interest caused his officers to lose confidence in his leadership.”
Kissoon’s boss, Col. Paul D. Cucinotta, and his senior enlisted adviser, Sgt. Maj. Nicholas Deabreu, were removed from their positions leading the Recruit Training Regiment at Parris Island in June after an investigation found that they had not done enough to stop the mistreatment of recruits.
Cucinotta, Kissoon and Deabreu did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
The Marine official with knowledge of the investigations said it is likely that the service will move forward with criminal proceedings against some Marines involved, beginning this fall.
Thomas Gibbons-Neff contributed to this report.
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