KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
A new report from the Marine Corps tells the story of longstanding abuse and hazing at its recruit depot at Parris Island, S.C. It shows abuse there is linked to the suicide of a recruit earlier this year. Marine Corps spokesman Major Chris Devine said the maltreatment went on for a simple reason.
CHRIS DEVINE: Marines failed to supervise what was going on within their own unit.
MCEVERS: NPR's Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman joins us now here in the studio. Hi, Tom.
TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Hey, Kelly.
MCEVERS: And you have read this investigative report. What does it say?
BOWMAN: Well, Kelly, it talks about a culture of hazing and abuse going back more than a couple of years. And we're talking about one battalion of several hundred recruits and a dozen or so drill instructors. Now, some of it's juvenile. It's, like, forcing a recruit to eat four slices of bread and a bagel and a biscuit all at once without water.
But the most disturbing is what happened to recruit Raheel Saddiqui back in March. He was a Pakistani immigrant from Detroit. He was called a terrorist by his drill instructor. Saddiqui talked about suicide while he was there and later recanted.
Then when Siddiqui said he was sick, the drill instructor forced him to run. Siddiqui fell, started crying. The drill instructor slapped him hard, and the recruit immediately ran and jumped off a third-story deck, killing himself.
In another case, a Muslim recruit was questioned about his religion, whether he was part of the 9/11 attacks. And he was placed in an industrial dryer by a drill instructor who turned it on repeatedly.
MCEVERS: What about the supervisors at this depot?
BOWMAN: Well, the problem centers on the battalion commander who's supposed to be in charge.
BOWMAN: He's a lieutenant colonel. Investigators called him, quote, "a toxic leader" - that he allowed this to happen. He created an atmosphere of abuse going back a couple of years - that he failed to file incident reports. He abused his staff. And again, investigators were looking at this battalion long before the suicide of this recruit. The officer has since been removed, and his boss, the colonel who ran the recruit regiment, also has been removed.
MCEVERS: Now, we're talking about this one battalion, but you have to ask, I mean, is this kind of behavior more widespread?
BOWMAN: Well, there's no indication it's widespread. The Marines will tell you, listen, there are hundreds of drill instructors.
BOWMAN: There are times when you have these incidents. Now, the drill instructors are supposed to be very tough, of course, but the Marine drill instructor creed says they'll show by their own example the highest standards of personal conduct, morality and professional skill. Kelly, I've been covered - you know, been covering the military a long time now.
BOWMAN: There have been similar problems in the past in the Army and the Navy over the years. This is a classic case of abuse of authority and no adult supervision. I mean, look at Abu Ghraib.
MCEVERS: Right. Quickly, what happens next?
BOWMAN: The investigators are looking at 20 Marines, including officers and drill instructors, who - you could see a variety of lesser punishments, like reduction in rank, loss of pay, but you could see criminal charges and court-martials, as well. Assault, by the way, is punishable by a dishonorable discharge and up to eight years in prison.
MCEVERS: That's NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman. Thanks a lot.
BOWMAN: You're welcome, Kelly.
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