The incident, captured in a video posted online that depicts American troops desecrating the bloodstained corpses of fighters, has appalled Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai and embarrassed the Pentagon.
“These kids made a mistake, there’s not any doubt about it,” Perry, the governor of Texas who is trailing most of his rivals in the battle for the Republican nomination for the November election, he said.
“But the idea that this administration would go after these young people for a criminal act is, again, over the top.”
The US military has launched a high-level investigation and the four Marines have been questioned, while US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have both expressed dismay at the acts and vowed that the culprits would be punished.
There are concerns that the video could be used as a recruiting tool for the Taliban and anti-American insurgents.
Perry, a former US Air Force pilot, criticized what he described as President Barack Obama’s administration’s “disdain for the military… whether it’s the secretary of state or whether it’s the secretary of defense.
“Did (the four US Marines) make a mistake? Absolutely. Should they be reprimanded and appropriately punished? Yes. But going after them as a criminal act I think sends a really bad message.”
Perry recalled how World War II era US general George Patton famously urinated in the Rhine river during his troops’ march into Nazi Germany, and, “although there’s not a picture, (British prime minister Winston) Churchill did the same thing on the Siegfried Line” to show contempt for the Nazis.
The US military said the four Marines are from a sniper unit in the 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines based at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, and they were grilled by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service which is leading a criminal inquiry into the affair.
The unit was deployed in southwestern Afghanistan’s Helmand province from March to September last year, and the video “potentially” was shot during that period, a military official told AFP.