Marines to create task force after nude photo scandal

Marines to create task force after nude photo scandal

The commandant of the Marine Corps has directed his deputy to form a task force to examine cultural issues within the service after a nude-photo sharing scandal rocked the Corps.

Gen. Robert Neller told reporters Friday that the task force will support the ongoing Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) investigation into the issue.

The scandal was uncovered last weekend by nonprofit military news organization The War Horse. NCIS is investigating hundreds of Marines on allegations they shared nude photos and personal information of female Marines and veterans in a private Facebook group. The Facebook group, called Marines United, had nearly 30,000 followers.

Defense Secretary James Mattis, himself a retired Marine, also made his first public comment on the scandal in a written statement Friday.

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“The purported actions of civilian and military personnel on social media websites, including some associated with the Marines United group and possibly others, represent egregious violations of the fundamental values we uphold at the Department of Defense,” Mattis said in the statement. “The chain of command is taking all appropriate action to investigate potential misconduct and to maintain good order and discipline throughout our armed forces.

"Lack of respect for the dignity and humanity of fellow members of the Department of Defense is unacceptable and counter to unit cohesion. We will not excuse or tolerate such behavior if we are to uphold our values and maintain our ability to defeat the enemy on the battlefield."

Some photos posted on Marines United were allegedly taken and posted without the women’s knowledge or were meant to remain private. Comments on the page reportedly included rape threats.

Several reports late Thursday said the investigation has also spread beyond the Marines to the rest of the military. Business Insider first reported Thursday that a website for sharing racy photos, Anon-IB, has a section dedicated to the military where people are engaging in behavior similar to that of the Marines United page.

Some lawmakers have criticized the Marines for not responding forcefully enough to the scandal. The sergeant major said earlier this week the Corps has to consider the issue of unlawful command influence.

The task force, led by Assistant Commandant Gen. Glenn Walters, will examine the progress of the criminal investigation, determine if other actions should be taken, assess the scope and scale of the activity at issue and look at any underlying cultural issues in the Marines, Neller said.

The task force will also look at whether victims are provided appropriate support and services, as well as whether there need to be changes to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, he added. Neller said he expected female Marines to be include in the task force.

“They’re going to look at what’s going on, while developing plans for corrective actions and recommendations to policies, procedures, education and training of Marines that will prevent this in the future and the culture — I’d say subculture — that may have given rise to this,” he said.

The task force has no deadline for completing its work, Neller said, adding that it will take as long as it needs.

Fewer than 10 victims have officially come forward to the Marines, Neller said, although he acknowledged The War Horse reported about 30 victims.

Neller said all Marines, male or female, need to come forward to report abuse and pledged the service would not retaliate against those who do.

Neller also condemned the threats against The War Horse's Thomas Brennan, a veteran who first uncovered the issue.

“I’m kind of concerned about skylining Mr. [Thomas] Brennan because he’s been threatened, which I find as disgusting and as sick as any some of this other stuff, that somebody who tried to bring this to attention would be attacked by other Marines,” Neller said.

Neller appeared frustrated at the Marines engaging in the behavior, saying the service should be focused on issues such as readiness and that he was planning to visit Marines in Norway before being called to Capitol Hill to testify next week.

“If you’d ask me a week, two or three weeks ago what’s my number one concern, it wouldn’t be looking for website where Marines are allegedly posting pictures of other Marines and making degrading, misogynistic, objectifying comments,” he said. “I kind of thought we were getting ready to modernize the force, address our readiness, go here, go there.

“I was going to go to Norway this weekend, see a bunch of Marines above the Arctic Circle up there training and do all this stuff that I think the great, great majority of us came into the Marine Corp to do, travel, challenging things, get ready to go represent our nation. So instead I’m going to be up on Capitol Hill.”

He also said woman have more than proven themselves capable Marines, recounting female Marines killed in an attack in Barwanah, Iraq.

“We’ve been fighting for 15 years, men and women, side by side,” he said. “And women, they did their thing. And I don’t know what else they go to do to say, ‘Yeah, good to go.’ We all bring something to the game.”

“They just wanted to do their job,” he later said of the female Marines. “Let them do their job.”