(CNSNews.com) - Marine Corps Commandant General Robert Neller, testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, vowed to remove the "stain" placed on his unit by active-duty Marines, veterans and civilian personnel who shared nude images of female service members – and posted derogatory or obscene comments -- on web pages and in Facebook groups such as Marines United.
Neller, in his opening statement, said he wanted to address both female and male Marines directly:
"I know I'm asking a lot of you right now," he told female Marines, past and present:
But I ask you to trust the leadership of the Marine Corps to take action and correct this problem. I ask you to trust me personally as your commandant, and when I say I'm outraged that many of you haven't been given the same respect when you earned the title Marine.
I know you aren't asking to be labeled as victims. For anyone's pity, I know you would find that as insulting as the recent behavior and comments on social media. I know what you do for our Corps -- for our team -- and what you've contributed, to include the past 16 years of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.
I know when you earn the Eagle, Globe and Anchor, you wear it as proudly as the Marines you are.
Neller continued with a message to the men currently serving in the Marine Corps and to those who no longer wear the uniform:
You're still Marines. I need you to ask yourselves, how much more do the females of our Corps have to do to be accepted?
Was it enough when Major Megan McClung was killed by an IED in Ramadi? Or when Captain Jennifer Harris was killed when her helicopter was shot down while she was flying blood from Baghdad to Fallujah surgical? (He named three other female Marines killed at enemy hands.)
What is it going to take, for you to accept these Marines as Marines?
Neller said he's committed to making things right, and he asked all Marines to come forward to "get rid of this perversion to our culture."
Anyone found taking part in the nude photo sharing scandal is liable to be subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, he said.
A furious Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who has made sexual assault in the military one of her priority issues, erupted at Neller, telling him that his call for things to be different "rings hollow."
"Who has been held accountable?" she demanded. "Have you actually investigated and found guilty anybody? If we can't crack Facebook, how are we supposed to be able to confront Russian aggression and cyber hacking throughout our military?"
Her voice shaking, Gillibrand said it's a "serious problem when we have members of our military denigrating female Marines who will give their lives to this country in the way they have, with a non-response from leadership."
She called Neller's testimony unsatisfactory: "And I would like to know what you intend to do to the commanders who are responsible for good order and discipline!"
Gillibrand noted that military commanders have been asking for "all responsibility to deal with sexual assault" for the past five years -- "but where's the accountability for failure?! Who is being held accountable for doing nothing since 2013? Who?!" she asked.
Neller said any commander who knew about or heard about the nude photo-sharing should be held accountable. But he didn’t have any names or “statistics.”
He finally told Gillibrand, "I don't have a good answer for you. I'm not going to sit here and duck around this thing. I'm not. I'm responsible. I'm the commandant. I own this, and we are going to have to -- you know, you've heard it before. But we are going to have to change how we see ourselves and how we treat each other. That's a lame answer, but Ma'am, that's the best I can tell you right now. We've got to change. And that's on me."
In response to another question, Neller told the committee, "We're addressing the symptom here." He wondered, what is it that makes anyone feel better about degrading anyone based on their gender, race or sexual orientation.
“If they are indeed a Marine ... that's not who we are and what we do."
Neller said with the help of criminal investigators, the focus now is on finding other objectionable websites and asking the Internet service providers to remove them. "Because there are other sites out there," he said.