The Navy announced it was investigating Capt. Owen Honors, the Enterprise commander, after a newspaper published excerpts of videos he recorded in 2006 and 2007. In the videos, which were broadcast over the ship's television system, he simulates masturbation, jokes about women taking showers and uses offensive terms for gays.
Commander Chris Sims, a spokesman for Navy Fleet Forces, said "no decision has been made" on whether to discipline Capt. Honors or temporarily relieve him of duty. But the defense official said it was all but final that Capt. Honors would be relieved of command as early as Tuesday, and that the Navy will continue its investigation of the videos.
After viewing the videos on Sunday and Monday, top Navy officials quickly lost confidence in Capt. Honors, officials said. The Navy has a tradition of acting quickly to remove commanders after a mishap or after top officials lose confidence in the officer.
The quick action also demonstrates that the military is under pressure to show that will not tolerate slurs against the sexual orientation service members after last month's congressional repeal of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law that barred gays from serving openly in the military. The ban on gay service members will end after top Defense Department officials certify it can be lifted without harming military readiness.
Capt. Honors was the executive officer, the second in command, of the USS Enterprise when he took a starring role in the videos, which were shown on the ship's closed-circuit television system during deployments. In May, he was named the commander of the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, which is due to deploy again in the coming weeks.
In one video, Capt. Honors uses a derogatory term for gays and jokingly acknowledges the skits are likely to offend some sailors. "This evening, all of you bleeding hearts … why don't you just go ahead and hug yourselves for the next 20 minutes or so, because there's a really good chance you're gonna be offended," he said.
Producing skits and follies while a ship is on a deployment are part of a Navy tradition. Coarse language is not uncommon in such productions, which are made, after all, by sailors, a group known for salty verbiage. While some such skits may be of questionable taste, the productions are usually meant for small groups and are not recorded or broadcast across an entire ship.
Showing the videos over the ship's television system, where it would be seen by everyone aboard the vessel, including religious chaplains, showed extremely poor judgment, officials said. More importantly, the officials said the offensive language and simulated masturbation in Capt. Honors's videos was clearly unacceptable in the modern Navy, even if it had been shown in a private setting.
The videos were first disclosed by the Virginian-Pilot, which reported that Capt. Honors showed videos on a weekly basis to entertain crew members. The decision to relieve Capt. Honors of command was first reported by NBC News Monday.
It is not clear whether the investigation of the videos by the Navy's Fleet Forces command will delay the Enterprise's departure.
The Navy has referred all inquiries about the matter to Commander Sims, the Navy spokesman. In a statement he said the videos are "clearly inappropriate."
"Those in command … are charged to lead by example and are held accountable for setting the proper tone and upholding the standards of honor, courage and commitment that we expect sailors to exemplify," he said.