Britain's Ministry of Defense said Sunday it was investigating claims of violent bullying in the Royal Marines, after a newspaper obtained video footage of what appears to show recruits being forced to fight each other in a naked initiation ceremony.
The News of the World newspaper said a soldier secretly filmed the fighting in May at a barracks near Plymouth in southern England. Broadcast on several news channels Sunday, the blurred footage shows naked men fighting in a field, with large rubber mats wrapped around their arms and with bare fists. The newspaper said one recruit was beaten unconscious.
Bullying in the armed forces is a sensitive issue and has received widespread media coverage since an inquiry into the deaths of four young recruits from gunshot wounds at England's Deepcut army barracks between 1995 and 2002. Earlier this year, a committee of lawmakers urged the military to establish an independent complaints commission to deal with bullying and harassment in the armed forces, and to consider raising the minimum age of recruits from 16 to 18.
Michael Ancram, defense spokesman for the main opposition Conservative Party, condemned the alleged bullying. "This sort of activity is inexcusable. It brings the army into disrepute, and it should be dealt with severely," he said.
The Royal Marines, the amphibious infantry of the Royal Navy, are regarded as one of the world's elite fighting forces and played a major role in the military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.
According to the News of the World, a marine covertly filmed the video at Bickleigh Barracks, near Plymouth _ the base of the unit 42 Commando. The newspaper said 12 recruits who had just completed their 32-week commando training took part in the initiation ritual, watched by around 40 other marines, also stripped naked.
In the footage, a man dressed in a blue surgeon's outfit appears to be overseeing the fighting. He appears to kick one of the naked men in the face, leaving him unconscious on the grass. The newspaper identifies the man in the blue suit as a noncommissioned officer.
Charles Heyman, a senior defense analyst at Jane's Information Group, said 42 Commando was an extremely disciplined, tightly run unit and said he would be surprised if such abuse had taken place, the AP reports.
He cautioned against accepting the footage at face value, and said it would not be the first time newspapers had been "fed a line" by soldiers. Piers Morgan, the editor of the Daily Mirror, stepped down last year after publishing photographs that purported to show British troops abusing Iraqi detainees. It turned out that the photos had been faked by British soldiers.