Jewish and American military organizations demanding a presidential investigation that will hold the troops accountable after a photo showing US Marine snipers posing with a flag depicting the Nazi SS symbol surfaced on the Internet.
The leaked photograph depicts the troops beneath the Nazi lightning symbol and an American flag in Afghanistan. The photo was allegedly taken in September 2010 by members of the 1st Reconnaissance Battalion at a base in the Sangin district of Helmand province.
The matter was brought to the attention of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force’s Inspector General in November 2011. The Marine Corps ordered the troops to stop using the symbol, but said it doesn’t plan to discipline participants because there was no malice in the act. Major Gabrielle Chapin, a spokeswoman at Camp Pendleton, California, claims that the Marines thought the lightening symbol referred to sniper scouts, rather than elite Nazi soldiers.
Colonel John Guthrie, with the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force's office of inspector general, 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.
In a statement, the Marine Corps added, "Those involved acknowledged that the symbol could be misinterpreted and is not in keeping with our Marine Corps ethos and values."
"'SS runes' are prohibited from use as a symbol or any other use," the statement closed.
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation sent a letter Thursday to the commandant of the Marine Corps and other officials, demanding that the photos be removed from the Internet and that everyone involved be court-martialed.
"We've seen everything, but this literally astonishes us," said the group's president, Michael Weinstein. "This is a felony; this is absolutely horrible in the worst degree."
Weinstein said that 45 active-duty Marines brought the photograph to his organization because they were afraid of the repercussions of going up the chain of command.
“The troops who posed in front of this Nazi SS flag obviously had no idea what it truly symbolized,” said Abraham Foxman, Anti-Defamation League National Director and a Holocaust survivor. “We developed a history curriculum 30 years ago, for there was a need then, as there is a need now, for our troops to be sensitized to the meaning of such symbols and the general nature of hate.”
“As the years pass, the memory of the ultimate sacrifices of American servicemen in World War II is being forgotten, and the symbols of the Nazis are losing their meaning to young people who have no memory and little knowledge of that time in history,” said Foxman.
Foxman called on the Marine Corps and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to institute an educational program developed 30 years ago in partnership with the ADL. The history curriculum on the Holocaust, required of all senior military officers, was abandoned after about a decade, but “The need is even greater today than it was then,” Foxman said.
Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder of Los Angeles’ Simon Wiesenthal Center, believed the mistake wasn’t such an innocent one. “That 70 years after the United States Armed Forces helped liberate Europe from Nazi Germany, to learn that a unit of the United States Marine Corps serving in Afghanistan adopted the SS insignia alongside the Stars and Stripes, desecrates the memory of some 200,000 Americans who gave up their lives to defend freedom against that infamous symbol,” he said in a statement.