(Reuters) - Texas Gov. Rick Perry, scrambling to keep his U.S. presidential bid alive, accused the Obama administration Sunday of overreacting to a videotape that shows four Marines appearing to urinate on dead Taliban fighters in Afghanistan.

These kids made a mistake. There's not any doubt about it. They shouldn't have done it. It's bad, Perry told CNN's State of the Union program.

But to call it a criminal act, I think, is over the top, said Perry, who faces a possible make-or-break performance in the South Carolina Republican presidential primary on Saturday.

The U.S. Marine Corps named an investigative officer last week to decide what, if any, charges to bring against the four Marines shown in the widely circulated videotape.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other members of the Obama administration have denounced the action by the Marines.

Defiling, desecrating, mocking, photographing or filming for personal use insurgent dead constitutes a grave breach of the (law of armed conflict), Lt. Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, who heads day-to-day Afghan operations, wrote the troops last week.

Perry, a former Air Force pilot, said the four Marines should be appropriately punished. But going after them as a criminal act, I think (is) really a bad message, he said.

Suggesting that armed conflict can alter personal behavior, Perry noted that there is a picture of legendary Army General George Patton urinating in the Rhine River in Germany near the end of World War Two.

Although there's not a picture, Perry added, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill did the same thing on the Siegfried line, a massive wall of German defenses.

(Reporting by Thomas Ferraro; Editing by Sandra Maler)