Marine charged with murder
The Associated Press reports today that a Marine lieutenant has been charged with a military count of premeditated murder for shooting two Iraqis during a search for a terrorist hideout, and faces execution if he is found guilty, according to his lawyer.
Second Lt. Ilario G. Pantano, 33, is accused of ‘numerous violations’ of the Uniform Code of Military Justice in connection with the deaths, the Marine Corps said. An Article 32 hearing -- the military court equivalent of grand jury proceedings -- will be held; no date has been set.
His attorney, Charles Gittins, said Lt. Pantano, based at Camp Lejeune, may have made a mistake in combat -- but should not be charged with murder. "Even if he's wrong, accidents happen in combat," Mr. Gittins said. "This was a very stressful situation. These two guys were bad guys. ... He said 'stop' and they didn't and he said it in Arabic."
Lt. Pantano was a platoon commander whose unit was dispatched to search for a cache of weapons and the terrorist hideout, said his mother, Merry Pantano of New York City. She said her son acknowledges shooting two Iraqis as they fled the supposed hideout. "Isn't it amazing?" she said. "He can face the death penalty for doing his job on the battlefield, making split-second decisions. He said it was self-defense in the situation that he was in," she said.
The attorney also said the shootings on April 15, 2004, were investigated by battlefield commanders at the time -- and that Lt. Pantano was cleared. "The lieutenant reported it to his chain of command after it happened and they investigated and said good to go. Then three months later a disgruntled enlisted man makes a complaint," the lawyer said.
There can be no question that certain actions are wrong and deserve punishment. For example, if a soldier or marine willfully shoots unarmed civilians, or kills enemy fighters in cold blood, he or she should be punished. But when, in the heat of battle, a soldier kills an enemy who only seconds before was trying to kill him, the punishment ought to be meted out to the idiots who want to prosecute the soldier.
We may learn over the next few days of circumstances that indicate that Lt. Pantano did something wrong. But so far, it doesn't sound like it. Was the Lt. just supposed to allow the enemy fighters to run away?
Maintaining a sufficient volunteer fighting force in time of war is difficult enough without second-guessing why someone killed an enemy fighter during a hostile incident. No one wants the draft to be reinstated, but it won’t take many instances like this one, and the one in late 2004 to cause potential enlistees to reconsider.