SAN DIEGO — The U.S. Marine Corps confirmed Thursday that a sniper team in Afghanistan posed for a photograph in front of a flag with a logo resembling that of the notorious Nazi SS.
Use of the SS symbol is not acceptable, and the Marine Corps has addressed the issue, Lt. Col. Stewart Upton said in a statement. He did not specify what action was taken.
Upton said the Marines in the photograph, posted on an Internet blog, are no longer with the unit. The picture was taken in September 2010 in Sangin province, Afghanistan.
The photo shows a flag with what appear to be the letters “SS” in the shape of jagged lightning bolts. The symbol resembles that used by SS units in World War II.
Another photograph, which showed a stylized “SS” on a rifle held by a Marine, also recently began circulating, the Marine Corps Times reported.
The SS, or Schutzstaffel, was the police and military force of the Nazi Party, which was distinct from the general army. Members pledged an oath of loyalty to Adolf Hitler. SS units were held responsible for many war crimes and played an integral role in the extermination of millions of Jews along with gypsies and other people classed as undesirables. The SS was declared to be a criminal organization at the Nuremberg war crime trials.
The Knights Armament Company blog published the photo in May 2011, and attributed it to Tayler Jerome, of the 1st recon BN Charlie Co.
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation in Washington D.C., which found the picture online and alerted the Marine Corps Times, said it was outraged and wants a full investigation.
Foundation officer Mikey Weinstein said he has been flooded with calls from former Marines offended by the photo and from one member of his organization who is an Auschwitz survivor.
“This needs to be fully investigated. This is a complete and total outrage,” he said.
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Weinstein said his organization was sending a letter to the head of the Marine Corps and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
Master Gunnery Sgt. Mark Oliva, a spokesman at Camp Pendleton, Calif., said the photo was brought to the attention of the 1 Marine Expeditionary Force inspector general in November, and he found there was no intent on the part of the Marines to identify themselves with a racist organization.
Oliva said the investigation found that the SS symbol was meant to identify the Marines as scout snipers, not Nazis, but it was nonetheless not acceptable.
This is the second time this year the Marine Corps has had to do damage control for its troops’ actions.
The Marine Corps is also investigating a separate group of Marines recorded on video urinating on the dead bodies of Taliban fighters.
Here is Upton’s statement on the SS symbol, also called “runes.” It was emailed to msnbc.com by Capt. Gregory Wolf, Marine Corps spokesman:
In November, the I MEF Inspector General became aware of the “SS” flag photo. They then received confirmation from the 1st Recon Battalion Commanding Officer in Afghanistan in November 2011 that several of the personnel in the photo were from 1st Recon Bn from the OEF 10.2 deployment (Afghanistan deployment in 2010). These Marines are no longer with the command. 1st Recon Bn is deployed forward again, but none of the personnel in the photo are still in the unit.
Certainly, the use of the “SS runes” is not acceptable and Scout Snipers have been addressed concerning this issue (“SS runes” are prohibited from use as a symbol or any other use).