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As snow pounded the capitol Tuesday, the Senate Armed Services Committee convened for the first official hearing on the nude photo-sharing scandal that’s rocked the Department of Defense and cast a pall over the Marine Corps in recent weeks.
Acting Navy Secretary Sean Stackley, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller, and Sgt. Maj. of the Marine Corps Ronald Green all appeared before a panel of lawmakers to attempt to untangle the culture of sexism and misogyny that gave rise to “Marines United,” the resurgent 30,000-strong Facebook group at the center of the scandal.
One of the most disturbing revelations from the hearing came from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat from New York, who revealed that it’s not just servicewomen but female civilians who have been affected by the predatory coterie of Marines United.
“I spoke to a civilian yesterday who has been continued to been harassed in her community because her ex-boyfriend exploited her online,” Gillibrand said. The senator’s office clarified to Task & Purpose that the civilian’s ex-boyfriend, who was a Marine, exploited her by sharing nude photo in the Marines United Facebook Group.
Two sources, one civilian and one a Marine veteran, had previously told Task & Purpose that many members of Marines Untied actively posted photos of civilian conquests without consent. The veteran alleged that, at one point in the group’s history, a Marine livestreamed sexual intercourse with an unsuspecting civilian directly into Marines United. Task & Purpose could not independently confirm this allegation.
“Who has been held accountable?” a skeptical Gillibrand spat at Neller. “Have you actually investigated or found guilty anybody?”
"I don't have a good answer for you,” replied Gen. Neller. “That's a lame answer."
Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia echoed Gillibrand’s fury, questioning Stackley about similar activity in other branches of the military. “I have a hard time believing that this massive sharing … is just limited to this branch … Do you believe this activity is limited to the Marine Corps.”
“No sir,” Stackley responded.
Secretary of Defense James Mattis on Friday condemned the actions of those involved as “egregious violations of the fundamental values we uphold at the Department of Defense,” pledging that officials would “investigate potential misconduct and to maintain good order and discipline throughout our armed forces.”
Stackley echoed Mattis’ comments during the Tuesday hearing, stating that the Marines United scandal represents a “grievous breakdown of good order and discipline” that amounts to an “insider threat” that undermines the integrity and unit cohesion essential to the Corps.
Both Neller and acting Stackley affirmed that those responsible for the photo-sharing that took place in Marines United and its subsequent iterations would be prosecuted to the fullest extent under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, likely under Articles 120 (taking and distributing explicit photos without permission) and 134 (conduct prejudicial to the “good order and discipline” we keep hearing about).
A two-page “White Letter” composed by Neller and obtained by Military.com ordered senior Marine leaders to provide support for victims of Marines United and other photo-sharing groups and “educate” troops on appropriate online conduct. Neller’s letter indicated that an update to the Corps’ 2010 social media guidelines is imminent.
Investigation shows Lt. Col. in charge of Corps' 1st Recon was fired for alleged 'misconduct' but has not been charged
The Marine lieutenant colonel removed from command of the 1st Reconnaissance Battalion in May was ousted over alleged "misconduct" but has not been charged with a crime, Task & Purpose has learned.
Lt. Col. Francisco Zavala, 42, who was removed from his post by the commanding general of 1st Marine Division on May 7, has since been reassigned to the command element of 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, and a decision on whether he will be charged is "still pending," MEF spokeswoman 1st Lt. Virginia Burger told Task & Purpose last week.
"We are not aware of any ongoing or additional investigations of Lt. Col. Zavala at this time," MEF spokesman 2nd Lt. Brian Tuthill told Task & Purpose on Monday. "The command investigation was closed May 14 and the alleged misconduct concerns Articles 128 and 133 of the UCMJ," Tuthill added, mentioning offenses under military law that deal with assault and conduct unbecoming an officer and gentleman.
"There is a period of due process afforded the accused and he is presumed innocent until proven guilty," he said.
When asked for an explanation for the delay, MEF officials directed Task & Purpose to contact 1st Marine Division officials, who did not respond before deadline.
The investigation of Zavala, completed on May 3 and released to Task & Purpose in response to a Freedom of Information Act request, showed that he had allegedly acted inappropriately. The report also confirmed some details of his wife's account of alleged domestic violence that Task & Purpose first reported last month.
A Marine Raider convicted in a North Carolina court of misdemeanor assault for punching his girlfriend won't spend any time in jail unless he violates the terms of his probation, a court official told Task & Purpose.
On Monday, Staff Sgt. Daniel Christopher Evans received a suspended sentence of 60 days in jail, said Samantha Dooies, an assistant to the New Hanover County District Attorney.
Evans must complete 18 months of unsupervised probation, pay $8,000 in restitution, complete a domestic violence offenders program, and he cannot have any contact with his former girlfriend, Dooies told Task & Purpose. The special operations Marine is also only allowed to have access to firearms though the military while on base or deployed.
That's right, Superman is (at least temporarily) trading in his red cape, blue tights, and red silk underpants for a high and tight, a skivvy shirt and, well, he's still rocking silkies.