Floor Statements

Washington, D.C. ­– U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ), Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, delivered the following opening statement today at a hearing on information surrounding the Marines United Facebook group:

“The Senate Armed Services Committee meets this morning to receive testimony on information surrounding the unfortunate matter of the ‘Marines United’ Facebook group. I want to thank each of our witnesses for appearing before the committee this morning:

  • “Acting Secretary of the Navy Sean Stackley;
  • “General Robert Neller, Commandant of the Marine Corps; and
  • “Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Ronald Green. 

“This committee is saddened and disturbed by allegations that female Marines have been subjected to online harassment and abuse, including denigrating comments and nonconsensual sharing of images, apparently in some cases by fellow Marines. Our witnesses are here to inform us about these allegations, and what is being done to address the impact on the service, especially those Marines who have been victimized. 

“All who love the Marine Corps are embarrassed and outraged by these allegations, none more so than our witnesses today. General Neller, since these allegations were made, you have been unequivocal in communicating to the men and women you lead that behavior like this is unacceptable and fundamentally opposed to the values of the Marine Corps.

“I want to re-emphasize the Commandant’s message to Marines last week: The members of this committee share your hope that Marines who have been victims of harassment and abuse will report that conduct to their chain of command, chaplain, or victim legal counsel. It is our expectation that Marine officers and leaders will support those victims, protect them from reprisal, and do all in their power to prevent abuse of any Marine.

“At this time, we do not know how many Marines were involved in these allegations of harassment and abuse, or what motivated those who were to engage in such disgraceful and unprofessional behavior. We do not know the origin of images of female Marines on the ‘Marines United’ Facebook group, some of which may have been taken or shared without their consent. And we do not know how many Marines may have been targeted.

“This committee expects the Department of the Navy and its senior Marine Corps leaders to provide updates on the investigation into these issues when appropriate, as well as keep the committee apprised of any corrective action the Marine Corps may take concerning policies, procedures, and the education and training of Marines. We realize that much of this information may be law enforcement sensitive due to ongoing criminal investigations. For that reason, immediately following this open hearing, the Committee will proceed to a closed session to from our witnesses on these sensitive matters.

“While there may be much that we still have to learn, there is much that we know already. We know that the actions of those Marines involved in ‘Marines United’ do not reflect the culture and values of their service—not only honor, courage, and commitment, but also mutual respect for all of their fellow human beings—values that are upheld and lived each day by the overwhelming majority of Marines. That is why Americans are proud of our Marine Corps—because the conduct of most Marines is deserving of our praise and respect.

“We also know that challenges we see in our military often reflect similar challenges confronting broader society. In this case, we are all confronting the unique challenges posed by the advent and proliferation of social media, which, like any technology, is an enabler—an enabler of incredibly good and decent things, but also dark and troubling things. The same technology that allows one group of Marines to create a support group to help their battle buddies struggling with post-traumatic stress can be used by another group to humiliate and demean their female comrades.

“At the same time, we know that those who serve in the profession of arms must be held to a higher standard. They would not want it any other way. We know that the Marine Corps cannot fight and win the nation’s wars if Marines do not respect and trust one another. This is not just a matter of good personal conduct. It is a matter of military effectiveness.

“That is why any Marine who disrespects a fellow Marine dishonors the values of the Marine Corps and harms its mission to defend the nation. This kind of behavior is unacceptable for any Marine or any member of the United States Armed Forces. And the actions of our civilian and military leadership—not just in response to these allegations, but at all times—must demonstrate that such misconduct will not be excused or tolerated.

“Finally, as members of the committee are aware, these allegations surrounding ‘Marines United’ are currently under investigation by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. Therefore, I encourage members of the committee to please reserve any questions that may be law-enforcement sensitive for the closed session to follow. I do not want this committee’s proceedings to be construed in any way that might interfere with the swift delivery of justice to those individuals that may have engaged in criminal behavior.

“Once again, I thank the witnesses for appearing before the committee today.”