Marines criticized for posing with flag similar to Nazi SS logo

A photo of a Marine Corps unit posing with a flag similar to the Nazi’s SS logo has angered Jewish and military religious groups and put the Marine Corps on the defensive once again over an Internet posting.

Marine scout snipers from the 1st Reconnaissance Battalion are seen posing with a flag with a lightning-bolt-shaped SS, resembling the Nazi’s SS logo, in a photo taken in September 2010.

Marines spokeswoman Maj. Gabrielle Chapin said that the Inspector General’s office investigated the incident in November 2011 when the Marines learned of the photo. She said the Marines in question, who were stationed at Camp Pendleton in San Diego, acknowledged that the use of the flag was not acceptable, but said they were not punished because the incident was not racially motivated, as they didn’t intend it to be connected the SS.

The SS, or Schutzstaffel, was Adolf Hitler’s elite unit that carried out the killing of millions of Jews and other groups persecuted by the Nazis.

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“The commander determined that disciplinary action was not warranted,” Chapin said. “Further, all Marines in the unit were reminded that any such behavior would not be tolerated and further display could result in punishment.”

But when the photo surfaced on the Internet, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation flagged it Thursday and demanded punishment.

“If these photographs are what they appear to be, we demand that you take all necessary action to see that they are removed from the Internet and that everyone associated with the matter, including anyone who condoned it, be the subject of immediate and public court-martial proceedings,” the group’s founder Randal Mathis wrote in a letter to Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Jewish human rights group, said in a statement that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and President Obama should “immediately investigate on how such an outrage could have occurred and to discipline all those involved.”

“In addition, it is clear that younger generations entering the U.S. military need to be better educated about the lessons of World War II and the Holocaust,” Hier said.

Pentagon press secretary George Little said Friday that Panetta has asked the Marines to investigate.

“Racist and anti-Semitic symbols have absolutely no place alongside the men and women of America’s armed forces,” Little said in a statement. “Secretary Panetta has asked the Marine Corps to look into this matter and to take appropriate action.”

For the Marines, the flag incident comes a month after a video surfaced on the Internet of Marines urinating on corpses of the Taliban. The video was condemned by U.S. officials as well as Afghan President Hamid Karzai, and the Marines have identified the personnel in the video.