CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. – 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' Parris Island, South Carolina, training center, prosecutors said Tuesday, according to multiple news outlets.
Felix also burned one recruit after ordering him into a commercial clothes dryer and turning it on after interrogating him about his Muslim faith, prosecutors told jurors. Felix told another Muslim recruit: "Hey, ISIS, get in the dryer," prosecutors said.
"You will learn the accused is drunk on power," prosecutor Capt. Corey Weilert told the eight-person jury hearing the case at the sprawling North Carolina Marine Corps base.
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 is 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.
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 pushups 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.