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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 September 2018

Marine instructor who targeted Muslim recruits convicted of abuse

Mistreatment came to light after one of the victims committed suicide in March last year

US Marine Gunnery Sergeant Joseph Felix leaves the court with his wife and lawyers after testimony at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, on October 31, 2017. Rory Laverty / The Washington Post via AP
US Marine Gunnery Sergeant Joseph Felix leaves the court with his wife and lawyers after testimony at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, on October 31, 2017. Rory Laverty / The Washington Post via AP

A Marine Corps drill instructor has been convicted by a military jury of physically abusing young recruits, sometimes while drunk, and focusing his fury on three Muslim-American military volunteers.

The eight-man jury determined that Gunnery Sgt Joseph Felix was guilty of hazing and maltreatment of recruits at the Marine Corps' Parris Island, South Carolina, boot camp. The jury of five sergeants and three officers decided Felix punched, kicked and choked military hopefuls.

The 34-year-old Iraq veteran could be sentenced to military prison, financial penalties and a dishonorable discharge. The jury was to begin sentencing deliberations at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, on Friday.

Prosecutor Lt Col John Norman said Felix was a bully who particularly "picked out three Muslim recruits for special abuse because of their Muslim faith".

Altogether Felix was accused in more than three dozen criminal counts of being a central figure in an abusive group of drill instructors at Parris Island. The abuse came to light in March last year after one of the three Muslim-American recruits he targeted committed suicide.

A hazing investigation led to charges against Felix, five other drill instructors and the training battalion's commanding officer. Eleven others faced lesser, administrative discipline. Felix also was convicted of lying to investigators.

Felix had pleaded not guilty and did not testify during his trial.

The lengthy list of charges against Felix included a series of disturbing acts against more than a dozen recruits. They included commanding recruits to choke each other, ordering them to drink chocolate milk and then training them until they vomited, punching recruits in the face or kicking them to the ground, and twice forcing Muslim recruits into an industrial clothes dryer.

"He wasn't making Marines. He was breaking Marines," Lt Col Norman told jurors on Wednesday.

In one case, Felix was accused of ordering former trainee Lance Corporal Ameer Bourmeche into a clothes dryer, which then was turned on as Felix demanded he renounce his Islamic faith. Bourmeche testified that he twice affirmed his creed and twice Felix and another drill instructor sent him for a bruising, scorching tumble inside the dryer. After a third spin, Bourmeche said he feared for his life and renounced his faith. The drill instructors then let him out, he said.

Felix was accused of maltreating Raheel Siddiqui, a 20-year-old Pakistani-American from Taylor, Michigan. He committed suicide in March 2016 by jumping off a stairwell after Felix barked at and slapped him, prosecutors said. Siddiqui's family last month filed a $100 million wrongful death lawsuit against the Marine Corps, which is pending.

Felix also was convicted of drunk and disorderly conduct and making false official statements.

In 2015 and 2016, the drill instructor derided Siddiqui and two other Muslim as "terrorists", Lt Col Norman said. He also ordered Bourmeche to simulate chopping off the head of a fellow Marine while reciting "God is Great" in Arabic, the prosecutor said.

Felix was permanently removed from his duties as a drill instructor after the investigation began.

Felix's chief defence lawyer, Navy Lt Cmdr Daniel Bridges, said the dozens of prosecution witnesses gave contradictory accounts that the government unfairly fashioned into a case against the drill instructor who called all recruits "terrorist". Young men told investigators fanciful stories including one in which Felix grabbed a recruit by the throat and lifted him off the ground with one arm, he said.

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