GOP Reps. Want Charges Dropped Against SEALs Accused of Abusing Terror Suspect

Two Republican lawmakers are seeking to have charges dropped against three Navy SEALs facing court-martial for accusations of abusing a terror suspect arrested for an ambush killing of U.S. contractors in Iraq.

The SEALs -- Special Warfare Operators 2nd Class Matthew McCabe and Jonathan Keefe and Special Warfare Operator 1st Class Julio Huertas -- were part of a team that in September 2009 captured Ahmed Hashim Abed, the suspected plotter behind the murder and mutilation of four Blackwater USA contractors in Fallujah in 2004.

The contractors' bodies were burned and left hanging from a bridge. The image came to symbolize the rise of Al Qaeda in Iraq and the brutality of the enemy Americans face there.

McCabe is accused of punching Abed in the stomach and giving him a bloody lip during the arrest.

Reps. Dan Burton, R-Ind. and Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif. held a news conference Thursday with McCabe and more than a dozen retired Navy SEALs and other special forces personnel.

"They did their job. It's our turn now," Rohrabacher said. "We've got to do our job, which is back them up and insist that this court martial be canceled."

"These people are laying their lives on the line every single day and they cannot go into a combat situation with kid gloves on," Burton added.

Burton and Human Events, a conservative publication, have gathered petitions with more than 150,000 signatures demanding that the charges be dropped against the men.

The SEALs were offered what's call administrative punishment if they admitted wrongdoing but that would have hurt their future as special operators.

Rather than accept the reprimand, the sailors chose to fight the charges in a military court.

They were arraigned in military court in December and the trials are set to begin in April for Huertas and Keefe, and in May for McCabe, who is charged with assault, dereliction of duty and making a false official statement; Keefe is charged with dereliction of duty and making a false official statement; and Huertas is charged with dereliction of duty, making a false official statement and impeding an official investigation.

The stakes are high for the three SEALs because a guilty finding could result in severe punishment. They face up to one year confinement in a military facility, demotion to entry-level position and a bad conduct discharge from the Navy.

Supporters are angry the three SEALs face charges. Protests are being organized and several Web sites have popped up defending their case.

"The response we've gotten from most of the American people is even if this happened, do we want to saddle the most highly trained special warfare fighters we have -- warriors, heroes who captured this abominable terrorist -- do we want to saddle them with federal convictions for the rest of their lives?" Lt. Col. Neal Puckett, McCabe's attorney told Fox News.

"The insanity could be stopped at any time,” Puckett added. "This is a knee jerk reaction to their refusal to accept a lower form of discipline which would have ended their careers and would not have given them a fair hearing because guilt had already been established in the minds of senior people in the chain of command.

"There are so many ways in the military system to handle this short of court martial," he continued. "That's all we're asking."

Burton has been on the case since December, when he sent a letter to Maj. Gen. Charles Cleveland, commander of Special Operations Command Central, asking for all charges against the SEALs to be dropped. Forty members of Congress signed onto Burton's letter, which was also sent to President Obama, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm.  Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Cheifs of Staff.

"My 40 colleagues in Congress and I are asking that the charges be dropped immediately, and for the Navy SEALs to be restored to their capacity within the Special Forces so they can continue the heroic business of fighting our nation's most wanted enemies," Burton said in a statement released at the time.

Cleveland defended the court-martial in a response to Burton writing, "The abuse of a detainee, no matter how minor, creates strategic repercussions that harm our nation's security and ultimately costs the lives of U.S. citizens."

Burton told Fox News Thursday that even if the SEALs are guilty of the charges, he doesn't believe they should be court martialed.

"In fact, I said to the chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff if I had been one of the people who captured this guy, I would have broken both his legs," he said. "This guy's a terrorist and I don't think he should be treated with kid gloves."

Fox News' Catherine Herridge contributed to this report.