Thursday, February 24, 2005
The Saga of Lt. Ilario Pantano
I'm not certain what to make of this. I even hesitated for a full day before attempting to post this story here. But here goes. A little more than two weeks ago, on February 1, 2nd Lt. Ilario Pantano was charged with premeditated murder in the shooting death of two Iraqis. The strange thing, to me, is that these charges are coming almost a year after the incident in question. An incident in which, from all the accounts I have read -- and the radio interview with Pantano's mother (who admittedly was not there) -- he was defending himself in an unknown and dangerous situation. In a nutshell .... In April 2004, Lt. Pantano was commanding a platoon in one of the most dangerous regions of the "Sunni triangle." Pantano and his men had been dispatched to a house believed to hold insurgents and weapons. Upon searching the property, according to Lt. Pantano's account, the Marines did indeed find bomb-making equipment and were in the process of removing it when they saw two Iraqis attempting to speed away in a sport utility vehicle. It doesn't take a great leap of logic to figure that the fleeing Iraqis have something to do with the hidden weapons. So, the Marines shot out the vehicle's tires and apprehended the two men. After securing the perimeter, the Marines had the two suspects search their own vehicle (standard procedure so that the soldiers would not be hit by any booby-traps). At some point, the two Iraqis stop searching and begin speaking to each other in Arabic, and then turned to advance upon Pantano. So the two Iraqis are coming at the Marine, talking in arabic. According to Pantano's account, he told them, in arabic (a point that some news sources neglected to mention), to stop but they kept coming. Depending on the news source, he may have told them more than once. Whether he told them one or more times, the Iraqi men did not stop. Pantano then shot and killed them because "he didn't know what they were doing but they weren't listening to him. He was in fear of his life" (according to Charles Gittins, a military defense attorney). It later turned out that the men were unarmed and there were no weapons in the SUV. Due to the nature of the situation, and Pantano's exemplary background, Pantano was cleared by his commanders in a battlefield investigation of the incident. So why is it that, nearly a year later, Pantano is being charged with two counts of premeditated murder, charges for which -- if convicted at a court-martial -- he would face the death penalty? This isn't like that idiotic General who said, more or less, "shooting insurgents is fun" [paraphrased]. For all intents and purposes, this Marine seems to have been doing his job and just trying to preserve his own life and the lives of his men. Sure, you can argue all you want that our soldiers should not be in Iraq in the first place. If that is your opinion, you are welcome to it, but that is not the topic at hand. I am not a warhawk, or chickenhawk, or whatever. This post is about an inept bureaucracy screwing someone who seems to be a good man. Oh, as if things weren't bad enough, threats have been made on his life. OK, that was a rather large nutshell. Even so, I've probably left tons of details out. You can get more info in the following links: News: Background on Lt. Pantano: The view from the left: The Islamic view: The Hindu view: From Down Under: What the conservatives say: Warlord: No Better Friend, No Worse Enemy. The book covers not only the hearings, but also provides a biography of Pantano, chronicling his training and service in both the first Gulf War and the current conflict. In September, 2006, Philly talk radio host Michael Smerconish hosted a book club event with Mr. Pantano. I was fortunate enough to attend. I was able to meet Mr. Pantano as well as one of his service buddies. He captivated the audience with his committment and love for the U.S., and he holds no illusions about how the war in Iraq is being fought. What encouraged me most about Pantano's presentation was his insistence on using "soft power" (which helped tremendously in bringing an end to the Cold War) to help win conflicts with radical Islam in the Middle East.