Marine Corps defends subdued response to nude photo scandal
By TRAVIS J. TRITTEN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: March 8, 2017
WASHINGTON — The sergeant major of the Marine Corps said Wednesday that the service has toned down its response to a nude photo-sharing scandal because it could impede an investigation and prosecution.
Sgt. Maj. Ronald Green told a House panel that comments by the service’s former commandant in reaction to widespread sexual assault in 2012 was rebuked by the judicial system as counter-productive and the Marines are concerned strong statements could again complicate the scandal.
A private Facebook group with 30,000 members is under investigation by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service for reports that it posted nude and compromising photos of female Marines that sometimes included their names, rank and duty stations.
Gen. Robert Neller, the Marine Corps commandant, released a video statement Tuesday calling the revelation embarrassing and a violation of the service’s values, though the statement steered clear of addressing potential sexual assault or the details of the growing scandal.
“I understand everyone wants us to come out and be outraged and we are outraged,” Green said.
But he also said the service has weighed a statement from a judge who criticized the earlier condemnation of sexual assault by former Commandant Gen. James Amos, who sparked questions of unlawful command influence after criticizing the lack of convictions and Marine discharges amid what many people called an epidemic of the crimes in the military.
“There are some things we’d like to say but due to the legal situation when he [Amos] came out and he made bold statements about how he felt about sexual assault, the judicial system said that the statements he made could actually have a negative impact on where they wanted to go with the prosecution,” Green said.
The Marine Corps has not received any details from the investigation of a computer hard drive for the Marines United Facebook page such as how many of the 30,000 members had an active-duty status, Green told members of a House Appropriations subcommittee.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., the top Democrat on the subcommittee, criticized the initial statement by Neller and said she was “incredulous” about Green’s explanation.
“That makes absolutely no sense to me,” Wasserman Schultz said. “I will tell you it doesn’t send the right message to your women in the Marine Corps when there is as a muted reaction, as I have interpreted there was.”
She said the private Facebook page and encouragement for members to upload more and more photos resembled illegal sites dedicated to child pornography.
“Frankly, the initial statement about it [from Neller] … didn’t provide the level of outrage I think most women would have felt was necessary,” Wasserman Schultz said.
The Republican chairman of the subcommittee, Rep. Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania, called the photo-sharing scandal “disturbing” and “disrespectful.”