WASHINGTON (AP) — The commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps condemned the use of a secret Facebook page by some Marines to share nude photos of women, including female Marines. And he urged victims to come forward if they have been harassed or abused, including over social media.
Gen. Robert Neller, in a sharp video message released Tuesday, said Marines should be focused on preparing to fight, "not hiding on social media participating in or being aware of actions that are disrespectful and harmful to other Marines. It's embarrassing to our Corps, to our families and to the nation."
The nearly four-minute video, distributed on various Marine websites and social media pages, represents the first expansive comments Neller has made about the jarring controversy that has triggered an investigation by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service.
Nude photographs of female Marines, veterans from across the military, and other women were shared on the Facebook page "Marines United," and the accompanying posts included obscene and threatening comments. The photos, which have now been taken down, showed women in various stages of undress, and some were identified and others were not. The site was touted as being for men only.
It's not clear how many active-duty Marines and other service members were involved or are under investigation. A Marine Corps official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss personnel matters by name, said at least one government contractor was removed from his job after he posted a link to the photographs.
An internal Marine Corps document obtained by The Associated Press said a former Marine maintained the Google Drive where the photos were shared, and that it had a following of about 30,000. Two active-duty female Marines filed complaints about the photos, leading to the NCIS investigation. But it's not known how many more may step forward as victims in the coming days.
In the video, Neller talks at length about Marine Corps values and the need for service members to treat each other with dignity and respect.
"It appears that some Marines may have forgotten these fundamental truths and instead have acted selfishly and unprofessionally through their actions on social media," he said.
In addition to encouraging victims to come forward, Neller said commanders must make sure that all Marines understand the rules governing their conduct, including on social media. And he said that officers must protect victims who come forward from any retaliation, harassment or abuse.
Neller ended by saying that if "changes need to be made, they will be made." And he warned: "If you can't or are unwilling to commit to contributing 100 percent to our Corps' warfighting ability by being a good teammate and improving cohesion and trust, then I have to ask you, 'do you really want to be a Marine'?"
The ongoing investigation is likely to involve a tangled web of legal questions about privacy and online activity -- including who can be held liable or criminally responsible if a photo that was willingly taken is then shared publicly. And there may be questions about the Marines who knew about the site, but never reported it.
In addition, Marines who made comments on the photos — including threats of violence — could face punishment.