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Three Navy SEALs are facing courts-martial on charges that they mistreated an Iraqi prisoner suspected in the deaths of four Blackwater security guards whose charred bodies were dragged through the city of Fallujah in 2004.

U.S. military officials have charged one of the SEALs with punching the prisoner, Ahmed Hashim Abed, after he was taken into custody Sept. 1 in Iraq. All three SEALs have been charged with dereliction of duty and lying to Navy investigators to cover up the incident.

The case has prompted an outcry from conservative members of Congress and members of the military’s secretive Special Operations Forces, who say the Navy commandos are innocent. More than 40 members of Congress — nearly all of them Republicans — have signed letters calling upon the Pentagon to exonerate the SEALs, while accusing military leaders of bending over backward to protect a prisoner believed responsible for one of the most gruesome slayings of Americans in Iraq.

“These people are laying their lives on the line, and they can’t go into a combat situation with kid gloves on,” Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) said Thursday at a Capitol Hill news conference. The SEALs, he added, “should be hailed as heroes for doing their job.”

Advocates for the accused SEALs — Petty Officer 1st Class Julio A. Huertas Jr., Petty Officer 2nd Class Matthew V. McCabe and Petty Officer 2nd Class Jonathan E. Keefe — said they have collected more than 150,000 signatures on petitions calling for an end to the court-martial proceedings.

Read the rest of Craig Whitlock’s story at The Washington Post.

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Three Navy SEALs are facing courts-martial on charges that they mistreated an Iraqi prisoner suspected…