Tags: Combat | Marines | Defend | Pantano

Combat Marines Defend Pantano

Thursday, 03 March 2005 12:00 AM

A U.S. Marine being investigated for murdering Iraqi citizens has received strong support from his fellow combat soldiers and officers who believe the charges are bogus.

A special investigative hearing will soon be held about the actions of Marine Corps 2nd Lt. Ilario Pantano relating to the deaths of two Iraqi during combat in Fallujah in April of 2004.

Time magazine recently noted, "[This] trial will be one of the most closely watched of any to come out of the Iraq war."

Sometime in the next couple of months, Lt. Pantano will appear before a Uniform Code of Military Justice Article 32 investigating officer at Camp Lejeune, N.C. At issue: are there reasonable grounds to believe Pantano committed the offenses of a pair of premeditated murders on April 15, 2004 while serving as a platoon commander in Iraq?

As he did as an infantry platoon commander in Iraq, Pantano will be fighting for his life, this time in a military courtroom, not the bloody streets of Iraq where Marines have been engaged in the worst kind of close-in urban warfare.

The preliminary hearing will be open to the public and so, most likely, will a general court-martial, should it follow, noted Time. "This one will get tried on TV - not at some small base in the middle of nowhere," said a former Marine lawyer.

According to the Time report, many of Pantano's fellow officers believe that the case reflects the gap between the way military leaders prefer to portray the war in Iraq to the public and the grim, blood-and-guts way it is actually being fought.

"The single biggest problem with the Iraq operation is that the military is at war but the nation is not," sums up one officer.

On April 15, 2004, while serving as a platoon commander in Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment in Iraq, Pantano was ordered to reconnoiter a reported terrorist hiding spot. He led his "quick-reaction" platoon to the site, a home in the town of Mahmudiyah, south of Baghdad and not far from the bloody town of Fallujah.

Pantano's orders were to raid the house and neutralize the reported nest of insurgents holed up there with their arms cache.

The intelligence turned out to be correct, and Pantano's Marines discovered weapons and bomb-making equipment in the house. As the Marines were securing the building, two Iraqis bolted from the site to a nearby truck, a sport utility vehicle.

The Marines charged after the suspects and brought the vehicle to a halt by shooting the tires out. Pantano ordered the pair out of the truck and, in accordance with standard operating procedures, told the captives to tear the interior of the truck apart to ensure it was not booby-trapped.

What exactly happened next remains unclear.

The Marine Corps has not released any official rendition of what it alleges happened. However, Pantano's civilian attorney, Charles Gittins, says that the two Iraqi men began chattering to one another, then one of the Iraqis made what Pantano determined to be a threatening move. When told to stop in his native language by Pantano, they continued in his direction.

As Pantano described it to the Naval Investigative Service:

"After another time of telling them to be quiet, they quickly pivoted their bodies toward each other. They did this simultaneously, while still speaking in muffled Arabic. I thought that they were attacking me, and I decided to fire my M-16A4 service rifle in self-defense. ..."

After the fact, it was determined that neither suspect was armed or rigged with explosives.

It was not until Pantano returned to Camp Lejeune that he was informed he was being charged with premeditated murder in the deaths of the two Iraqis – a charge that theoretically could carry the death penalty.

Several Marine officers who served with Pantano in Iraq, and who spoke to Time magazine on condition of anonymity, criticized the Marines for pursuing the case. Pantano, they maintain, had two choices. He could hold fire and risk his life and those of his men, or shoot to kill.

At DefendtheDefenders.com, Pantano's mother has been collecting the rave reviews of his fellow warriors:

Despite the outpouring of support and endorsements, the officers prosecuting Pantano remain somewhat smug about what's in store when

"A number of people who have spoken out about the incident - his mother, his defense attorney, his peers - were not there," says Major Matthew Morgan, a spokesman for the 4th Marine Expeditionary Brigade. "But those who attend the hearing will get a clear understanding of why the prosecution feels there is merit to the case."

One key prosecution witness is a sergeant who claims Pantano shot the unarmed Iraqis without provocation. Pantano and his supporters say this witness was a disgruntled member of their unit.

Yet another witness, a Navy corpsman, has told the Naval Investigative Service that Pantano shouted a warning and then the men moved suddenly.

The case is being closely watched because it has consequences beyond Lt. Pantano. It is another battle in the war between those who say lawyers dictate how we fight our wars and those who feel this is simply a case of disciplining one soldier who committed a crime.

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A U.S. Marine being investigated for murdering Iraqi citizens has received strong support from his fellow combat soldiers and officers who believe the charges are bogus. A special investigative hearing will soon be held about the actions of Marine Corps 2nd Lt. Ilario...
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2005-00-03
Thursday, 03 March 2005 12:00 AM
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