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US defense chief seeks new probe into Marine photo

US defense chief calls for new investigation into Marines posing with logo resembling Nazi SS By The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) ' 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.



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."

The Marines involved in the photo are no longer with Charlie Company, 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, out of the base north of San Diego. Chapin said she did not know if they had left the Corps.

Military officials learned of the photograph in November and investigated immediately. It later surfaced on a blog of a military weapons company.

The photo, taken in the Sangin district of Helmand province, shows 10 Marines posed with sniper rifles in front of an American flag above a dark blue flag with the "SS" letters.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder of Los Angeles' Simon Wiesenthal Center, who had called for Obama and Panetta to investigate the incident, said he welcomed Friday's development.

"I'm happy to hear that at the highest echelons of the United States government, this is being taken seriously," Hier said.

It was the second time this year that images have surfaced showing Marines acting improperly and forcing the Corps to deal with the fallout. Last month, the Pentagon scrambled to contain the damage after an Internet video purportedly showed Marines urinating on Taliban corpses ' an act that appeared to violate international laws of warfare and further strained U.S.-Afghan relations. Panetta called Afghan President Hamid Karzai to offer assurances of an investigation, and the top Marine general promised an internal probe as well as a criminal one.

___

Watson reported from San Diego.


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