The conduct of Marines in a private social media group that shared explicit photographs of female Marines denigrates the core values of the service, and illegal behavior will be prosecuted, the service’s leaders said on Capitol Hill on Wednesday.
The Naval Criminal Investigative Service is investigating the “Marines United” Facebook group to determine whether violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice occurred, acting Navy secretary Sean J. Stackley told the Senate Armed Services Committee today. The Marine Corps is part of the Navy Department.
It is not currently known how many of the group’s reported 30,000 members were active Marines or how many participated in illicit activity, Stackley said. He described the behavior as a “cancer” that needs to be eradicated.
“Discovery and investigation these past several weeks into the toxic, predatory behavior harbored by the website Marines United has uncovered a grievous breakdown of good order and discipline, a violation of our core values and what amounts to an insider threat,” Stackley said.
The commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. Robert B. Neller, and the sergeant major of the Marine Corps, Sgt. Maj. Ronald L. Green, also appeared before the panel.
‘Truly Disturbing and Unacceptable’
Members of Marines United shared explicit photos, primarily of female Marines, and made derogatory, demeaning and sometimes sexually violent comments about the women, Neller said.
“The Marine Corps I’ve served for over 40 years has a problem and we intend to fix it,” he said. The actions “pervert our culture” and are “truly disturbing and unacceptable,” he added.
The Marine Corps, at all levels, must do a better job of maintaining the transformation that happens when a civilian becomes a Marine, Neller said, while eliminating any behavior that targets an individual as less than a teammate or fellow Marine.
“We must attack any behavior that has a corrosive effect on good order and discipline of our Corps,” he said.
His message to female Marines, he said, is that he is deeply outraged about the misconduct. He encouraged those affected and others with knowledge of the activities to come forward. He and the other leaders at the hearing pledged that those who come forward will be protected.
Female Marines have served the nation honorably, the commandant said, including over the past 16 years of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.
To current and former male Marines, he said, “I need you to ask yourselves, ‘How much more do the females of our Corps have to do to be accepted?’ before naming several female Marines who were killed in action in Iraq: Maj. Megan McClung, Capt. Jennifer Harris, and Cpls. Jennifer Parcell, Holly Ann Charette and Ramona Valdez.
“We all have to commit to getting rid of this perversion to our culture,” he said. “Enough is enough.”
Leadership ‘Outraged’ at Actions
Green, the senior noncommissioned officer in the Marine Corps, said he will do what it takes to protect not only the enlisted Marines, but also all Marines and their dependents.
“I didn’t prepare any words, but I can tell you that no one’s more outraged than the leadership you see sitting before you today,” he told the senators. “This tears at the very fibers that bond us together as we fight for the nation’s freedom and liberty.”
Possible UCMJ Violations
If a Marine shared a photo of another person that was taken without that person’s consent and under circumstances in which that other person had a reasonable expectation of privacy, the Marine may have violated Article 120c of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, by broadcast or distribution of an indecent visual recording.
In addition, a Marine “who directly participates in, encourages, or condones such actions could also be subjected to criminal proceedings or adverse administrative actions,” a previous Marine Corps statement said.
The Marine Corps leaders today stressed that support is available for affected Marines, through chaplains, counselors, victim advocates and other resources. They can also contact NCIS online or call 1-877-579-3648.
(Follow Lisa Ferdinando on Twitter: @FerdinandoDoD)