Republican presidential hopeful Rick Perry on Sunday accused the Obama administration seeking to score political points with "over-the-top rhetoric" after four Marines were caught on video purportedly urinating on the corpses of slain Taliban fighters.
Perry's comments put him at odds with Sen. John McCain, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, who said the images could "damage the war effort."
"The Marine Corps prides itself that we don't lower ourselves to the level of the enemy," McCain said when asked about Perry's position. "So it makes me sad more than anything else, because ... I can't tell you how wonderful these people (Marines) are. And it hurts their reputation and their image."
A military criminal investigation and an internal Marine Corps review are under way. The Geneva Conventions forbid the desecration of the dead.
No one has been charged in the case, but officials in the US and abroad have called for swift and decisive punishment for the four Marines. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said last week that he worried the video could be used by the Taliban to undermine Afghan peace talks.
The Taliban, however, dismissed the video saying peace talks and planned prisoner exchanges would go forward as planned.
The continued furor in Washington over the video after the Taliban rendered officials fears moot has led observers to question Washington's motives for keeping the issue alive in the press.
Perry said the four Marines should be reprimanded but not prosecuted on criminal charges or given a dishonorable discharge.
"Obviously, 18-, 19-year-old kids make stupid mistakes all too often. And that's what's occurred here," the Texas governor told CNN's "State of the Union."
He later added: "What's really disturbing to me is the kind of over-the-top rhetoric from this administration and their disdain for the military."