Reps. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) and Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) planned Thursday to present 180,000 signatures to Pentagon officials asking that the courts-martial against three Navy SEALs in the beating of an al-Qaeda suspect be dropped.
"These gentlemen are heroes in my opinion," Burton, a member of the Foreign Affairs and Oversight and Government Reform committees, said on Fox News. He said that the petition asks that the men be exonerated "and congratulate, them in my opinon."
Special Warfare Operators 2nd Class Matthew McCabe and Jonathan Keefe and Special Warfare Operator 1st Class Julio Huertas were on the team that captured al-Qaeda operative Ahmed Hashim Abed for the 2004 slaying and mutilation of four Blackwater contractors in Fallujah. After being killed, the contractors' bodies were burned and hung from a bridge.
The SEALs are going on trial next month on charges that McCabe punched Abed in the stomach and gave him a bloody lip, and that the three made false statements about the incident.
"The al-Qaida manual that they all live by says that if you're captured make the allegation that you're abused by the military or whoever else captured you," Burton said.
The congressman said he didn't think the men would serve jail time, but that the case could ruin the SEALs' careers and send a negative message to other members of the military. "These people risk their lives every day and they need to know we're behind them 100 percent," he said, adding that a member of al-Qaida "should never get the benefit of the doubt" over servicemembers.
"If I'd been one of the people who catpured this guy I would have broken both of his legs," Burton said. "...Maybe I'm a little extreme."