Two male Marines have been demoted and about two dozen other military members are being investigated in connection with nude photographs that were shared online, the Marine Corps said Friday.
The administrative punishments are the first from the photo scandal that included violent and disparaging comments about women in the pictures.
The two enlisted Marines made negative comments on a social media site under a photo of a woman, but their remarks were about a male senior leader, not her.
In an interview with The Associated Press on Friday, Marine Gen. Glenn Walters, the assistant commandant, said that commanders can punish Marines for such behavior because it violates the military code of good order and discipline.
"Good order and discipline is a requirement for all Marines and if you do something that does not promote good order and discipline in a unit then you can be held accountable," he said. "All of these activities on social media that disparage a female Marine or any Marine for that matter is not good order and discipline and we have an adjudication process in place to assure that."
The other service members being investigated are either active duty or reserve Marines.
A number of former and current female Marines have come forward to say that their photographs and those of other female service members were posted online without their consent. The postings triggered investigations by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, the Air Force Office of Special Investigations and the Army Criminal Investigation Command. So far, only female Marines have come forward as victims.
According to Marine Lt. Col. Warren Cook, commander of 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines, the two demoted Marines posted derogatory comments on the social media page "United States Grunt Corps." He said the two unit members pleaded guilty and were demoted by one pay grade, and put on 45 days of restriction and 45 days of extra duties.
Regarding the civilians identified by investigators, two cases have been referred to state authorities, Walters said. In both cases the states decided not to pursue the matter any further, he said.
Andrew Traver, NCIS director, said that the investigative team of about 100 people has already reviewed more than 75,000 images and 150 different websites. He said that about half of the photos are of women and half are of men, and the overwhelming majority of the photos are so-called selfies — taken voluntarily by the subject.
In addition, he said, most of the photo and comment postings were done by civilians. And in the bulk of the cases, they don't rise to the level of criminal activity, he said.
NCIS is also using facial recognition software to help women determine whether or not their photos may have been circulated on the websites. So far, he said, there have been "a handful" of matches.
Walters said that NCIS will build criminal cases when possible, but if there are no criminal charges the case will be referred to the service to determine if there were code violations and if administrative action is appropriate.
"Everything we teach in combat is about teamwork," said Walters. "If we have some members of the team that we're not getting the best out of because we're treating them bad, then we're not going to be successful on the battlefield."
In the month since the scandal broke, the Marine Corps has issued a longer and more detailed social media policy that lays out the legal ramifications for service members who commit misconduct online. Incoming Marine recruits will now have to sign a contract acknowledging that they have read and understand the new guidelines.