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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The captain of a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier was expected to be relieved of command on Tuesday after producing bawdy videos that featured slurs against homosexuals, simulated masturbation and inane toilet humor.
The Navy was expected to announce its decision to relieve Capt. Owen Honors of the USS Enterprise later in the day, military officials said days after images from the videos began popping up on the Internet and in television news reports.
The Navy was planning to transport Honors from the Enterprise via helicopter on Tuesday, according to a senior Navy source.
Both the source and the military officials spoke on condition of anonymity.
Officials at the Navy's Fleet Forces Command in Norfolk, Virginia, the ship's home port, were not available for comment.
Honors produced and starred in the videos aboard ship three or four years ago, when he was executive officer, or second-in- command, of the nuclear-powered carrier. He was later promoted to command the USS Enterprise.
It was not clear why the issue suddenly came to light years after the fact.
The videos, which include sexually suggestive scenes of women showering together, sailors in drag and a mock anal examination, were broadcast aboard the ship's closed-circuit television system as movie night entertainment for the carrier's 5,800 crew members and aviators.
The Navy issued a statement on Sunday condemning the videos as "inappropriate" and adding that such actions were "not acceptable in today's Navy. The Navy does not endorse or condone these kinds of actions."
"This is the sort of thing you'd expect from a 19-year-old recruit. But you're dealing here with a 49-year-old senior officer and this has called his judgment into question," one official said.
Honors has made no public statement about the videos. But his supporters rose to his defense on Facebook, where they applauded his leadership and described the videos as morale boosters. Associates including former crew members also defend him in TV interviews.
The videos risked exposing the U.S. military to fresh complaints about discrimination against gays at a time when the Pentagon seeks to implement a new policy accepting homosexuals in its rank following last year's congressional repeal of the Defense Department's long-standing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy toward gays.
"It is very important that the most senior leadership make it absolutely clear that ... there's no place in the Navy for those who engage in this sort of frat house behavior," the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, which represents gays military personnel, said in a statement this week.
The Navy has been rocked by sexually charged scandals in the past, including the 1991 Tailhook scandal in which more than 100 Navy and Marine Corps officers were accused of indecent behavior and sexual assault against scores of women.
The videos first surfaced over the weekend in the Virginian-Pilot newspaper. The newspaper, which serves the city of Norfolk, where the carrier is based, made video excerpts available on its website (pilotonline.com/).
The Virginian-Pilot said the Navy acknowledged putting a stop to the broadcasts after learning about their existence.
Some experts, citing the recent repeal of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy on gays in the military, said the Navy video incident suggests it might be difficult to change the attitudes of the military leadership and rank and file.
"The fact that you have a person that has risen this high in the service and has done this will legitimize those people who are opposed to the change in the policy," said Lawrence J. Korb, a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress and retired Navy captain.
Others viewed it as an isolated incident.
"I don't really see this in light of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'", said Peter Singer, Senior Fellow specializing in Defense policy at the Brookings Institute.
"By the time you become executive officer of one of the most powerful ships in the world, one would hope you had moved beyond playing with a masturbating sock puppet with your subordinates," he said.
Additional reporting by Wendell Marsh, Editing by Greg McCune