A House Armed Services Committee member yesterday called for an investigation into charges that the Navy has systematically abused recruits and denied them their legal rights at its San Diego training center.

Rep. Thomas J. Downey (D-N.Y.) said at a press conference it is "difficult, if not impossible, to ignore" the charges and documentation of physical and legal abuse presented to his office by a former legal officer at the San Diego facility.

The former legal officer, Ronald McRae, also appeared at the press conference. He said that while the physical mistreatment of recruits at San Diego has abated over the past six months, recruits still sometimes find themselves trapped in legal situations where their only recourses are accepting bad discharges or spending unearned time in jail.

Recruiters, had-pressed to attract recruits in a half-less time, encourage potential recruits to lie about prior drug use, homosexual activity or other facts that could make them ineligible for naval service, McRae said.

When those recruits arrive at San Diego, their records frequently catch up with them. When they do. McRae said, the recruits are forced to accept a prejudicial general discharged or to allege recruiter misconduct, which usually results in the recruits languishing in jail without pay for weeks while the charge in investigated.

If the recruits wait for their charges against recruiters to be heard, McRae said, "they uniformly will win." He said a shortage of lawyers and Navy policy prevent most recruits from following that course, though.

McRae said physical abuse today is continued to activities such as "marching through Georgia," in which fully dressed recruits are exercised for hours in barracks where the temperature has been turned fully up and hot showers are running.

He charged that one recruit was exercised to death in 1972, and that another died last year because of negligence by naval hospital officials.

McRae served as the nonlawyer legal officer at San Diego until Aug. 1.

The Navy is investigating his charges.

Downey said he is confident the committee will also investigate them.