Raheel Siddiqui faced Islamophobic abuse at boot camp before his death which was ruled a suicide
The family of a Muslim Marines recruit who died at a military boot camp last year is suing the US government over allegations of Islamophobic hazing and abuse.
The lawsuit, which asks for a $100m in compensation, accuses the government of “negligence on multiple levels of command” that led to 20-year-old Raheel Siddiqui's death.
The Muslim American recruit, who was the son of Pakistani immigrants, fell from the third floor at the camp, and his death was ruled a suicide. He was allegedly the subject of Islamophobic insults by superiors at the camp.
An investigation had found that Siddiqui was called a “terrorist” because of his faith.
The lawsuit states that Siddiqui was “excited” about serving in the the country’s armed forces and his parents had told local media outlets that he was determined to endure the hardships and training to become a Marine.
The legal complaint says the late recruit had showed no signs of suicidal ideations or mental health issues before he headed to the Marines' Parris Island in South Carolina.
Drill instructor Joseph Felix faces charges of maltreatment for allegedly slapping Siddiqui. Before Siddiqui, Felix allegedly abused another Muslim recruit by ordering him into an industrial-sized dryer, turning it on and making anti-Muslim remarks to him.
The lawsuit argues that recruiters “deliberately withheld information” from Siddiqui to get him to join the military, noting that he was never warned about discrimination against previous Muslim recruits.
Within 24 hours of training on the island, Siddiqui made threats of suicide, telling medical emergency services that he was abused. However, the 20-year-old recruit was not transported to a hospital, the legal complaint says.
He was deemed “low risk for harm” after recanting the threat of suicide.
After injuries sustained in martial arts training, Siddiqui handed in a note complaining of a swollen throat and coughing blood but never received medical attention, the lawsuit says.
The legal complaint adds that the 20-year-old fainted and was revived by a Marine employee who rubbed his knuckles on his sternum.
On 18 March 2016, Siddiqui fell three stories on a stairwell - to his death. While the military was quick to rule the incident a suicide, Siddiqui's family questions the government’s conclusion.
The lawsuit says no witnesses have come forward to corroborate that Siddiqui deliberately killed himself.
“The medical evidence of the injuries sustained by Raheel Siddiqui are inconsistent with death resulting solely from a fall,” the legal complaint reads.
Congresswoman Debbie Dingell, who represents Taylor, Michigan, where Siddiqui resided with his family, has also questioned the Marines’ version of the events.
"While we will never know what happened, I am convinced he did not intend to kill himself that day, which is the definition of suicide," she wrote earlier this year in a letter to the medical examiner who determined the Muslim recruit's cause of death.
The US lawmaker also bemoaned "leadership failures at multiple levels of command, and administrative and process failures that, if avoided, could have reduced the risk of his death."
Dawud Walid, the executive director of the Council on American Islamic Relations in Michigan, said he was told by Siddiqui’s family and friends that the late Marines recruit was a top student who showed no signs of depression.
“Moreover, he voluntarily joined the military with hopes to go back to school to be an FBI agent,” Walid told MEE.
CAIR is not involved in the lawsuit. Walid, a Navy veteran, said he had faced anti-Muslim bigotry in the military himself.
“We believe there was injustice done against Mr Siddiqui,” Walid said.
“I can say as an American Muslim who formerly served in the military that there is a very deep-seated hazing problem in general in the United States military, especially when it comes to people who are different, especially people of colour.”