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.
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told the Marine Corps on Friday to re-investigate and take appropriate action against the Marine snipers who posed with a logo resembling a notorious Nazi symbol.
The top Marine officer apologized for the incident and ordered his commanders to look into the use of such symbols by snipers and reconnaissance Marines and make sure they are educated on how inappropriate such actions are.
The rapid-fire announcements came on the heels of demands from a leading Jewish organization and others for President Barack Obama to order an investigation into the incident and to hold the troops accountable.
Panetta met with Marine Corps Commandant James Amos on Friday to discuss, among other things, a spate of problem incidents involving Marines that have surfaced in recent months. A U.S. defense official said Panetta approved of the actions being taken by Amos to address the problems. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the meeting was private.
An initial Marine investigation into the matter concluded that the troops would not be disciplined because there was no malicious intent. The Marines mistakenly believed the "SS" in the shape of white lightning bolts on the blue flag were a nod to sniper scouts — not members of Adolf Hitler's special unit that murdered millions of Jews, Catholics, gypsies and others, said Maj. Gabrielle Chapin, a spokeswoman at Camp Pendleton, California.
But the furor over the photo — which was taken in September 2010 in Afghanistan — grew as Jewish leaders and others questioned whether it was an innocent mistake.
Pentagon press secretary George Little said that racist and anti-Semitic symbols have no place alongside U.S. service members.
And in a statement released Friday, Marine Corps Commandant James Amos ordered individual instruction for the sniper and reconnaissance Marines about the prohibitions against inappropriate symbols.
"I want to be clear that the Marine Corps unequivocally does not condone the use of any such symbols to represent our units or Marines," Amos said. "On behalf of the Marine Corps and all Marines, I apologize to all offended by this regrettable incident."
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