SAN DIEGO - The commander of a group of US Marines who were photographed in Afghanistan with what looks like a Nazi SS flag concluded they were acting out of ignorance rather than bigotry and did not punish them, a Marine Corps spokesman said on Thursday.
Outrage over the 2010 photo ricocheted around the Internet and threatened to snowball into the latest war-zone scandal for the Marine Corps, and at least one anti-discrimination group called for a Pentagon inquiry of the incident.
Master Gunnery Sergeant Mark Oliva, a Marine spokesman at Camp Pendleton in California, said the commander of the elite sniper team involved had investigated the matter and decided no disciplinary action was warranted.
"They didn't realize that they were associating themselves with something that was racist, fascist," Oliva said. "This was a chance to educate our young Marines about" the history of the Nazis and "the power of symbols."
The picture shows 10 armed and uniformed Marine snipers flanking an American flag above a dark-blue banner depicting in white the "lightning bolt" double-S symbol of the Schutzstaffel -- the Nazi paramilitary group that helped Hitler come to power and carried out some of the worst atrocities of the Holocaust.