Scout snipers in the Marine Corps shown with a flag bearing an "SS" similar in design to one used in Germany by the SS, a paramlitary force that operated under the Nazi party. ()
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Marine Corps scout snipers used the logo of the notorious Nazi SS organization while in Afghanistan in 2010, the service acknowledged Thursday.
The logo appeared on a flag in a photograph of the platoon taken in September 2010 in Sangin district, a hotly contested area in Helmand province. The Marines were with Charlie Company, 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, out of Camp Pendleton, Calif., and are shown sitting in combat gear with the U.S. flag and a blue flag with the stylized "SS" logo hanging behind them.
The logo also appears on a 7.62mm M40 sniper rifle carried by a Marine in another photograph distributed Thursday by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. Information embedded electronically with the image shows that it was released by the Marine Corps in 2004 and taken at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center at Twentynine Palms, Calif. The two Marines in it were with the scout sniper platoon with 1st Battalion, 7th Marines.
Combined, the two photographs suggest that the practice has been carried out for years. The logo's use is an apparent nod to "scout sniper," a position exclusive to the Corps. The Army has scouts and snipers, but considers the positions to be separate.
"We don't have all the information, but we know enough to know the Marine Corps needs to open a full investigation," said Mikey Weinstein, the foundation's president. "If these guys just get a non-judicial punishment, it's absolutely absurd."
The SS, or Schutzstaffel, was a paramilitary organization under the Nazi Party. It committed a variety of war crimes, and was outlawed by Germany after World War II.
The inspector general at I Marine Expeditionary Force at Pendleton was made aware of the "SS" flag photograph in November, said Capt. Gregory Wolf, a spokesman at Marine Corps headquarters. The Marines involved were ordered to stop using the logo. Marine officials at the Pentagon declined to comment on whether the Marines faced any discipline, saying the issue was handled on the unit level at Pendleton.
A Marine official, speaking on background due to the sensitivity of the issue, said the Corps' leadership was not aware of the SS logo's use until it came to their attention late last year.
"We don't believe these Marine Corps snipers had a historical appreciation for what this symbol meant," the official said. "As soon as leadership was made aware of it, they took action at the unit level and then passed that information throughout the sniper community and to those snipers serving in Afghanistan."
That seems possible, said Allen Falk, national commander of the Jewish War Veterans of the United States of America.
"We believe that these young men likely did not understand the significance of this symbol, and we call on the Marine Corps to increase education on American history," he said. "This issue goes beyond one of racism or anti-Semitism. Our fellow Americans fought and died to stop the Nazis, and it is shameful for any member of the military to display the symbols of Nazi Germany."
The Corps has addressed the use of the SS logo before, however. A PowerPoint presentation posted on a Marine Corps website said it should not be used in any tattoos. The logo was used by German special police during World War II and is still used by neo-Nazis and graffiti to characterize anti-Semitism, white supremacy and facism, according to http://www.yuma.usmc.mil/services/eo/documents/tattoos.ppt">the presentation.
The MRFF said Thursday in a letter sent to Commandant Gen. Jim Amos, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and other top Pentagon officials that it was contacted by 45 active-duty Marines concerned about the photographs.
"The implication of these photographs, if true, should be readily apparent," the letter said. "If the use of the Nazi insignia has been, in any way, condoned or tolerated by the Marine Corp.[sic], the implications are abhorrent to everything for which our country is fighting and the constitutional principles for which it stands."