Did Marine drill instructor 'torment' Muslim recruits?
Closing arguments have been made in the trial of a Camp Lejeune drill instructor who was accused of "one charge each of drunk and disorderly conduct and dereliction of duty, and eight counts of violation of a general order in connection with hazing accusations," according to Military.com.
Gunnery Sgt. Joseph Felix is also accused of mistreating Muslim recruits, calling them "terrorist" and "ISIS" while mocking their religion.
Beginning Thursday morning, an eight-member military jury will deliberate over whether, among other charges, Felix forced recruits to choke each other, ordered them to drink chocolate milk until they vomited, and, on two occasions, loaded Muslim recruits in an industrial dryer in interrogation-style hazing rituals.
The allegations that have drawn the most attention, however, surround the March 2016 suicide death of recruit Raheel Siddiqui, a Pakistani-American from Michigan who leapt to his death from the third floor of a Parris Island squad bay, according to military investigators.
Felix, who at the time was already under investigation for the alleged dryer incident, is accused of calling Siddiqui a terrorist, slapping him and forcing him to run back and forth in the squad bay minutes before his death.
Felix is accused of routinely calling Muslim recruits "terrorist," referring to a Kurdish recruit, Rekan Hawez, as "ISIS," and forcing another Muslim recruit to conduct a mock beheading of a platoon mate while shouting, "Allahu Akbar."
The Marine's military defense attorneys, however, contend these accounts are overblown, contradictory and unbelievable.
In addition, they allege a key government witness, Sgt. Michael Eldridge, is actually responsible for some of the malfeasance of which Felix is accused. Eldridge, a former drill instructor, testified as part of a plea deal that will result in a lower-level administrative proceeding for him, with a limited maximum sentence.
Drinking on duty and lying to investigators are serious charges, if they can be proved. But what about the rest?
I've heard enough stories about boot camp from those who survived it and read enough accounts to know that drill instructors constantly operate on the edge. Their job is to psychologically and systematically break down a recruit and then build him up so that at the end of the 13-week course, a United States Marine is born.
It is a brutal process that not all recruits can finish. Physically, emotionally, and psychologically, the drill instructors attack the weaknesses of recruits, exposing them, and then, hopefully, giving them the ability to overcome those weaknesses. In the end, they not only harden recruits, turning them into killers, but also develop esprit de corps and unit cohesion that is so much a part of the success of Marines on the battlefield.
There is a purpose to just about everything the drill instructors do. But does singling out Muslims, calling them "terrorists," contribute to making a good Marine?
That's only one of the charges facing Sgt. Felix. As for the rest, to a civilian, it sounds extreme. But is it illegal? That's what the jury in this case will decide.