By Abby Sewell and Tony Perry, Los Angeles Times –
SAN DIEGO — The U.S. Marine Corps is dealing with fallout from the revelation that a group of Marines based at Camp Pendleton, Calif., and deployed to Afghanistan posed for a picture in front of a flag bearing a Nazi symbol.
The Marine Corps confirmed that the Marines pictured in the photo, which surfaced on the Internet, were part of one of its scout sniper teams deployed in Sangin province in 2010. The photo shows the Marines posing in front of a U.S. flag with a flag bearing the Nazi SS symbol underneath.
Lt. Col. Stewart Upton said in a statement that the scout snipers had been “addressed” concerning the issue. He said none of the personnel in the picture are still part of the unit, which is now deployed again.
In a statement, the Marine Corps said, “Those involved acknowledged that the symbol could be misinterpreted and is not in keeping with our Marine Corps ethos and values.”
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation, an advocacy group, sent a letter Thursday to Gen. James F. Amos, commandant of the Marine Corps, and other officials, including Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, calling for the photos to be removed from the Internet and for everyone involved in the incident to be court-martialed.
“We’ve seen everything, but this literally astonishes us,” said the group’s president, Michael L. “Mikey” Weinstein. “This is a felony; this is absolutely horrible in the worst degree.”
Weinstein said the photographs were brought to his organization’s attention by a group of 45 active-duty Marines who were afraid to go up the chain of command within the Marine Corps because they felt they would face reprisals.
Marine officials said those involved were not Nazi sympathizers.
Col. John Guthrie with the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force’s office of inspector general said his office became aware of the photograph in November and received confirmation from a commanding officer in Afghanistan that the personnel were part of the 1st Reconnaissance Battalion out of Camp Pendleton.
Guthrie said in a statement that the use of “SS runes” was “not acceptable.”
“Some Scout Snipers have unfortunately used the ‘SS runes’ in the past as a symbol for their elite organization and not intended for racial connotations or discrimination,” he wrote.
Weinstein said his group is contemplating taking legal action over the incident.
The Marine Corps is also investigating an incident in which a group of Marines based at Camp Lejeune, N.C., were recorded on video urinating on the bodies of dead Taliban fighters.