A top Pentagon officer is launching an investigation into the prevalence of Nazi symbols within the Marine Corps.
The nation’s highest ranking Marine officer, Gen. James Amos, also issued an apology “to all offended by this regrettable incident.”
A Marine Corps spokesman said that the snipers in question were not aware of the significance of the flag, and thought that it stood for “sniper scouts.”
The now widely circulated photograph comes on the heels of a video which captured Marine squad leader and others urinating on dead Taliban fighters. The Marine Corps says it is still investigating that incident.
The service also has drawn recent criticism for a trial of Marines who killed two dozen Iraqi civilians at Haditha, Iraq, in 2005. The head of the unit responsible for the killing was charged with dereliction of duty and sentence to serve 90 days in the brig – jail time which the Marine commander waived.
Critics said the light sentence for the unit leader – and the decision to drop charges against others associated with the Haditha shooting – failed to convey the seriousness of the Marines’ actions.
General Amos says he was made aware of the photograph with the Nazi flag Thursday. The direct commanders responsible for the US troops posing in the photograph had concluded in a November inquiry that they “were ignorant of the connection of this symbol to the Holocaust and monumental atrocities associated with Nazi Germany,” Amos said in a statement released Friday.
Members of the SS pledged an oath of loyalty to Adolph Hitler and carried out many crimes – including torture and murder – against Jews, gypsies, and others during World War II.
On the heels of the incident, “a formal instructional class was prepared and delivered by unit leadership” in Afghanistan, Amos added.
Amid the furor caused by the photo, Amos announced some additional steps the Marine Corps would be taking as well.
For starters, he ordered commanders to “investigate the prevalence or use of SS or other unauthorized symbols within the reconnaissance and sniper communities.”
Amos also directed the sergeant major of the Marine Corps – the service’s top noncommissioned officer – to “immediately detach from his current duties in Washington and personally meet with every senior staff noncommissioned officer and Marine from our sniper and reconnaissance communities to reinforce my message and expectations.”
Finally, Amos said that he had asked the general in charge of the Marine Corps training and education command to “review the current sniper school curriculum to ensure it contains prohibitions on the use of the SS symbol and other inappropriate symbols.”
Pentagon press secretary George Little weighed in on the photograph on Friday, as well.
“Racist and anti-Semitic symbols have absolutely no place alongside the men and women of America’s armed forces. [Defense] Secretary [Leon] Panetta has asked the Marine Corps to look into this matter and to take appropriate action,” he said in a statement.
Added Amos, “I want to be clear that the Marine Corps unequivocally does not condone the use of any such symbols to represent our units or Marines.”