Washington (CNN) -- A trio of congressional Republicans passionately appealed to the Pentagon on Thursday to drop charges against three Navy SEALs accused of assaulting an Iraqi suspected of orchestrating the 2004 killing and mutilation of four U.S. contractors.
Flanked by about a dozen retired Navy SEALs at a news conference near the Capitol, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-California; Rep. Dan Burton, R-Indiana; and Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, insisted that the U.S. is sending the wrong message to its troops.
"These Navy SEALs were apprehending a terrorist murderer, and they are being accused of roughing him up? Give me a break! These men should be given medals, not prosecuted. These men are heroes," Rohrabacher said.
Burton agreed, saying, "These people are laying their lives on the line every day, and they can't go into a combat situation with kid gloves on."
The congressmen said they plan to present to Pentagon officials petitions signed by thousands of people supporting the SEALs.
The Iraqi suspect, Ahmed Hashim Abed, complained to investigators he was punched during his detention.
One of the three SEALs, Petty Officer 2nd Class Matthew McCabe, 24, accused of assault, stood next to his attorney at the event Thursday. McCabe did not speak.
Gohmert said those who bring harm to Americans should not get the same judicial treatment as U.S. citizens.
"They get all their constitutional rights. Well, we've got heroes around who deserve the constitutional rights of an even better caliber. And yes, there are different levels of constitutional rights," he said.
In January, a military judge ruled that the trials of the two other SEALs should be held on a base in Iraq.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Jonathan Keefe, 25, and Petty Officer 1st Class Julio Huertas, 28, are charged with dereliction of duty and impeding an official investigation surrounding the Iraqi's detention last September. Their trials are set to begin next month.
The case against the Navy SEALs has sparked outrage that the sailors are being tried at all for handling a suspect in the contractors' murders, one of the most notorious incidents in the Iraq war.
The killings got widespread news coverage when the burned bodies of two of the contractors were paraded through the streets of Falluja and hanged from a bridge as their captors cheered.
"In this case, we've turned logic upside down on its head," said Rohrabacher. "Our government is taking the word of a terrorist and attacking our defenders."