Murder Charges Against Marine Lieutenant Pantano Dropped
The military has dropped murder charges against Marine Lieutenant Ilario Pantano after concluding that the accusation of a disgrunted enlisted soldier had no merit.
A former Wall Street trader who rejoined the Marines after the Sept. 11 attacks will not be tried on murder charges for killing two suspected Iraqi insurgents, a Marine general decided Thursday. The decision by Maj. Gen. Richard Huck, commander of the 2nd Marine Division based at Camp Lejeune, ends the prosecution of 2nd Lt. Ilario Pantano, whom prosecutors accused of killing the men without justification. “Down at the unit level, there was never a question about Ilario’s conduct and whether or not he did the right thing,” Charles Gittins, Pantano’s civilian lawyer, said. “It was up in the higher echelons. The people removed from combat situations needed to put more trust in their officers rather than assuming they’re guilty.”
The two Iraqis were killed during an April 2004 search outside a suspected terrorist hideout in Mahmudiyah, Iraq. Pantano contended he shot them in self-defense after the men disobeyed his instructions and made a menacing move toward him. Prosecutors alleged Pantano intended to make an example of the men by shooting them 60 times and hanging a sign over their bodies “No better friend, no worse enemy,” a Marine slogan. While citing self-defense as his motive, Pantano did not deny hanging the sign or shooting the men repeatedly.
An Article 32 hearing, the military equivalent of a grand jury session, was held in April. In a report dated May 12, the hearing officer, Lt. Col. Mark Winn, had recommended that the murder charges be dropped. While finding some problems with Pantano’s behavior, Winn concluded that one witness’ accusation that Pantano shot the detainees while they were kneeling with their backs to him was not supported by other testimony or evidence. Witnesses testified the sergeant who was Pantano’s main accuser was a weak Marine who was bitter about Pantano removing him from a leadership role within the platoon.
While I’m always glad to see the U.S. military take war crimes charges very seriously, there is no reason Pantano should have been on the hot seat this long. That the charges were baseless seemed obvious from the outset. Certainly, the Article 32 should have ended this.