One service member could face a court-martial in connection with the “Marines United” investigations, said Marine Commandant Gen. Robert Neller when asked Thursday by members of the Senate Armed Services Committee about the latest developments in the nude photo sharing scandal that rocked the Corps.
The private Facebook group known as “Marines United” was first brought to the Corps’ attention when Marine veteran and journalist Thomas Brennan broke the story in early March that the group was circulating thousands of pictures of nude female service members, veterans and civilians.
Since the investigations began, Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) has identified 65 suspects, of which 59 were referred back to their specific commands to face disciplinary or administrative action, Neller said during the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.
The service member facing court martial must attend a mandatory Article 32 hearing to determine whether or not there is enough evidence to warrant a court-martial – which is a judicial court where members of the armed services are tried after being accused of offenses against military law.
So far the Corps has come down harshly on those associated with the nude photo ring, with one service member being administratively separated, seven receiving non-judicial punishment, and 20 receiving adverse administrative actions.
Gen. Neller stressed to the committee that he understood the tight situation he was in, and reiterated the Corps’ commitment to cracking down on online, predatorial behavior.
He also pointed out that commanders are responsible for deciding what specific disciplinary or administrative actions to take, if any at all are warranted.
“You know that I cannot prescribe an action to be taken by a commander because that would be considered undue command influence,” he told the committee.
Former Marine Sgt. Erin Kirk-Cuomo, co-founder of the advocacy group Not In My Marine Corps – a group that aims to combat sexual assault and harassment in the military – said the Corps’ easy punishments were not enough.
“Twenty adverse admin actions is basically laughable in my opinion,” he said. “That’s like telling Marines: ‘Hey, here’s a little slap on the wrist; go have fun and then laugh about this with your buddies.’ ”
“I would have expected some more harsh penalties for behavior like this,” he added.