A former Marine Corps drill instructor was "drunk on power" and targeted three Muslim recruits for abuse, prosecutors said at the opening of his court-martial on charges including cruelty and maltreatment.
Gunnery Sgt. Joseph Felix punched, choked, and kicked recruits at the Marine Corps' training center at Parris Island, South Carolina, prosecutors said Oct. 31, according to multiple news outlets.
"You will learn the accused is drunk on power," prosecutor Capt. Corey Weilert told the eight-person jury hearing the case at Camp Lejeune, a sprawling Marine Corps base in North Carolina.
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After a confrontation in March 2016 when Felix slapped his face, 20-year-old Raheel Siddiqui of Taylor, Michigan, fell three stories to his death, investigators said. Siddiqui's death was declared suicide, but since then Marine Corps officials have said they uncovered widespread hazing of recruits and young drill instructors and identified up to 20 people possibly tied to misconduct.
A commanding officer at Parris Island who was fired amid allegations of misconduct after Siddiqui's death also faces a court-martial. Lt. Col. Joshua Kissoon is charged with making false statements, failing to heed an order and other charges. He will face court-martial at Marine Corps Base Quantico in Virginia, but no trial date has been set.
Mentions of Siddiqui's death are being limited by Judge Lt. Col. Michael Libretto to testimony addressing an obstruction charge facing Felix. Prosecutors say Felix told recruits not to talk about the incident outside of the unit, The Island Packet of Hilton Head, South Carolina, reported.
Felix also faces three counts of maltreatment toward Siddiqui and the two other Muslim recruits, as well as nine counts of violating an order, making a false statement, and being drunk and disorderly.
One of the Muslim recruits, 21-year-old Rekan Hawez, who came from Kurdistan to the US as a baby, testified that Felix began hazing him after finding out he was a Kurd, The Island Packet reported.
Hawez, who was other-than-honorably discharged in June 2016, said that Felix routinely called him "Kurdish," "ISIS" and "terrorist," The Island Packet reported.
Hawez said that one night Felix made his entire platoon drink multiple glasses of chocolate milk before exercises, and when one recruit vomited, Felix made another recruit drink the vomit, The Island Packet reported.
Hawez also said Felix forced his platoon into a laundry room to perform exercises on a different night, and at one point, forced him to get into an industrial dryer.
"Hey ISIS, get in the dryer," Felix allegedly told Hawez, The Island Packet reported.
Ameer Bourmeche, now a 23-year-old lance corporal at Camp Pendleton in California, said he was roused awake in the middle of the night in July 2015 by shouts of "Where's the terrorist?" He said Felix and another drill instructor, Sgt. Michael Eldridge, marched him to the barracks shower room, where Felix elbowed him in the chin. They smelled of alcohol, Bourmeche testified.
Eldridge also was charged, but he is cooperating with the prosecution and is expected to face less-severe punishment, The Washington Post reported.
Bourmeche said Felix and Eldridge ordered him to do push-ups and other exercises in the shower, then told him to climb into an industrial-size clothes dryer. He said they turned on the dryer with him inside three separate times. Each time, the drill instructors asked whether he renounced Islam. The third time, Bourmeche said, he told them he was no longer a Muslim.
Defense counselor Navy Lt. Cmdr. Clay Bridges told jurors that testimony by Bourmeche and other recruits are boot camp stories that have been conflated, are contradictory and "blown out of proportion."
The trial is scheduled to last about two weeks.