The Navy said it would discipline 40 officers and senior enlisted personnel – including six admirals – for their roles in producing and broadcasting a series of homophobic and sexually-explicit videos onboard the aircraft carrier Enterprise over the past six years.
Adm. John Harvey, the head of the Navy’s Fleet Forces Command, told reporters that he was recommending that Navy Secretary Ray Mabus issue so-called “Secretarial Letters of Censure” to Capt. Owen Honors, who was relieved of command of the Enterprise earlier this year after the videos were first made public, and a trio of other senior officers, including a pair of admirals.
If Mabus signs off on the recommendation, the letters would effectively end the four officers’ military careers by ensuring they were never promoted again. Honors is facing a separate disciplinary proceeding which will determine whether he should be discharged from the Navy.
“The behavior exhibited during these ‘XO Movie Night’ videos violates long-standing norms of exemplary conduct required of all naval officers by public law and U.S. Navy regulations,” Harvey told reporters. “We cannot simply ignore actions such as the production of these videos that clearly call into question a Navy leader’s judgment, character, and fitness to command.”
Harvey also issued “non-punitive letters of caution” to a pair of other senior officers, Rear Adm. Raymond Spicer and Vice Adm. Daniel Holloway. Both men had commanded the Enterprise strike group and lived aboard the carrier during the time period when the offensive videos were made and shown to the ship’s crew. Spicer has already retired, but the measure means that Holloway - who currently commands the Navy’s Second Fleet – won’t be promoted again.
The broad scope of the disciplinary measures marked a clear attempt by the Navy’s leadership to move beyond a scandal which has given the service an enormous black-eye in the months since the videos were first made public.
The months-long investigation into the Enterprise found that 25 of the videos had been broadcast over the ship’s closed-circuit television system between October 2005 and December 2007. Honors himself had appeared in many of the recordings, which included anti-gay slurs and simulated shower scenes featuring sailors from both genders. The
Harvey told reporters that Honors’ personal behavior exhibited a “profound lack of judgment,” but made clear that he believed the problems on the Enterprise went well beyond a single officer.
“The problem stemmed from the fact that the executive officers of Enterprise, the officers primarily responsible for assisting the commanding officer in maintaining good order and discipline and ensuring exemplary conduct, were themselves the source of the problem,” Harvey said
After Honors was relieved of command in January, a large number of officers and sailors who had served with him aboard the Enterprise rallied to his defense, arguing that he was a smart and conscientious officer who had been trying to improve the ship’s morale after a series of exhausting deployments. Honors’ defenders noted that Navy culture has long been accepting of behavior that would be deemed offensive in the civilian world, and stressed that the videos were never broadcast anywhere but on the ship. Copies of the videos were anonymously sent to Norfolk’s Virginian Pilot newspaper earlier this year, setting off the scandal.
Harvey, one of the service’s most senior officers, vocally rejected those arguments Thursday. Speaking to reporters at his base in Norfolk, Va., Harvey pointedly said that officers like Honors “are not popular entertainers.”
“Poor judgment and behavior that undermines that credibility threatens good order and discipline and, over time, jeopardizes the crew’s faith in its leadership,” Harvey said.
The disciplinary measures were hailed by outside advocacy groups like the Service Women’s Action Network. Anu Bhagwati, a former Marine caption and the group’s executive director, said the moves were “the right thing to do.”
“This scandal was a clear failure of that leadership at all levels," she said in a written statement.
But the moves are virtually certain to anger many current and former Navy personnel, who already feel besieged by the mounting political pressure to cut the service’s ship-buying budget and possibly trim its ranks. Honors, meanwhile, has indicated that he is prepared to go to the mat and wage a public campaign to regain his name and reputation. That means the Enterprise scandal won’t be fading from the public consciousness anytime soon, however much senior Navy commanders might want it to.
Sara Sorcher contributed. contributed to this article.