A congressman who served in Afghanistan is seeking leniency for four Marines videotaped urinating on the corpses of Taliban fighters, while some backers of the Marines are voicing support online.
Rep. Duncan Hunter, himself a former Marine, urged Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta to "put things in the proper context" when judging the Marines on their conduct because they face brutality every day in Afghanistan.
"In Afghanistan, our Marines see recurring acts of brutality by the enemy directed toward them and the Afghan people, and they see their friends wounded or killed," the California Republican said in a letter to Mr. Panetta this week.
"We owe it to these individuals and others who put their lives on the line every day to take into account the extraordinary conditions and danger they face when judging their actions, and put things in the proper context."
Mr. Hunter,a member of the House Armed Services Committee, acknowledged in his letter, sent Wednesday, that the "actions of the Marines [shown in the video] were wrong ... [and] unnecessary."
He said the Marines should be disciplined but not court-martialed, arguing that criminal charges that could carry prison terms would be too harsh.
Mr. Hunter also urged Mr. Panetta not to make an example of the men to mollify anger about their actions from Afghan or other allies.
Mr. Panetta has called the incident "utterly despicable" and promised that the Marines involved would be "held accountable to the fullest extent."
Afghan President Hamid Karzai asked the Obama administration to "apply the most severe punishment to anyone found guilty in this crime."
Navy criminal investigators have interviewed the four men and are weighing charges against them. Their actions could violate both the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the Geneva Conventions, military legal scholars said this week.
The Marines in the video have been identified as members of the 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force when it deployed last summer to Afghanistan's Helmand province, a notorious insurgent hotbed.
While the Marines face official condemnation, they are building support on the Internet.
Since the video emerged last week, a Facebook group page titled "Stand United With Our Marine Heroes Against 'Urinegate' " has been created, registering more than 1,250 "likes," or favorable visits
Douglas Bowyer, who identifies himself as a Marine veteran, wrote on another Facebook page: "Job well done. The beer is on me!"
A Facebook page called "Support the Betio 5" has also sprung up. 'Betio' is the battalion's nickname, and the number "5" may refer to the four Marines shown in the video and whoever filmed it.
"Regardless of the act and how reprehensible our politicians and civilians find it, we are in a war, and unfortunately, emotions take over," said Shelby Toal, a Marine veteran who served for six years. Mr. Toal defended the Marines on Devil Dog Review, ablog run by Marines expressing their personal opinions.
"Our Commanders know that, our politicians should know that, because they are the ones that put these young men in that situation," Mr. Toal told The Washington Times.
Mr. Hunter's spokesman, Joe Jasper, said the congressman has received an "overwhelmingly positive" response his constituents and other members of the public.
Not all fellow Marines approve of the actions undertaken by the four.
"We can kill every one of them, and people will cheer us on. But when we lower our standards, when we put ourselves on the same level as [them], we are no better," wrote Samuel Frost, who identified himself as a Marine Corps machine-gunner, on the "Urinegate" Facebook page.
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