COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — The Marine Corps general dealing with accusations of rampant abuse and hazing of recruits at its Parris Island training facility announced Tuesday that he has recommended charges and special courts-martial for three Marines and a preliminary hearing for a fourth.
It is the first public legal step the Marine Corps has taken since the service disclosed in September that it was considering possible punishments for up to 20 Marine leaders at Parris Island. The decisions came amid three investigations into allegations of widespread abuse of recruits by drill instructors.
The investigations became public after the March 18 death of 20-year-old recruit Raheel Siddiqui, of Taylor, Michigan. A Marine Corps spokesman said the charges announced Tuesday were not related to the Siddiqui case, but involved two other investigations of suspected abuse at Parris Island.
In a statement late Tuesday, Maj. Gen. James Lukeman said all the Marines are presumed innocent until proven guilty, and that the charges being referred were accusations only. Lukeman also said he has "taken the allegations of misconduct very seriously," and that he will work to ensure the safety of recruits and that the integrity of the Marine Corps training program remain "our priority."
Lukeman, the head of the Marine Corps Training and Education Command at Quantico, Virginia, also identified three Marines charged with multiple violations of military law, or the Uniform Code of Military Justice:
—Staff Sgt. Matthew Bacchus was charged with violating a lawful order, maltreatment, and making a false official statement.
—Staff Sgt. Jose Lucena-Martinez was charged with failure to obey a lawful order and making a false official statement.
—Sgt. Riley Gress was charged with failure to obey a lawful general order, cruelty and maltreatment and making a false official statement.
The maximum punishment facing the three if convicted in the special courts-martial is 12 months confinement and a bad conduct discharge.
Lukeman said he has called for an Article 32 hearing involving an unnamed fourth Marine, who is accused of failure to obey a lawful order, cruelty and maltreatment, and making a false official statement.
An Article 32 hearing is similar to a civilian grand jury proceeding. It reviews the evidence and will help determine whether the unidentified Marine should face a court-martial.
Bacchus and Gress served in Afghanistan while Lucena-Martinez served in the Marine Corps recovery operation responding to the devastating Haiti earthquake of 2010. All four Marines hold positions at Parris Island, said a spokesman for Lukeman, Capt. Joshua Pena.
Pena said all would be appointed military defense attorneys. They could not be immediately reached for comment. No dates for any hearings have yet been determined, Pena added.
Siddiqui fell 40 feet to his death in a barracks stairwell, and the Marine Corps said its investigation found he had committed suicide after being slapped by a drill instructor. Siddiqui's family has said they do not believe he committed suicide.
Siddiqui's death sparked outrage on Capitol Hill and several members of Congress have pressed for Pentagon investigations into hazing in the military.
Other accusations of maltreatment uncovered in the probes included name-calling, beatings, physical exercises ordered until recruits injured themselves, and even one case in which a recruit was reportedly placed inside a dryer as he was derided for his Muslim faith.
About 500 drill instructors are assigned to the Parris Island post. It is the only site where female Marines go through basic training, and they are trained in units separate from their male counterparts. All recruits from east of the Mississippi River train at the 100-year-old island near Beaufort, South Carolina.
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