Since the Article 32 hearing is Tuesday, I've been getting a lot of email about Lieutenant Pantano. He's charged with premeditated murder for shooting two Iraqis during a search for terrorists last April.
On Monday, the investigating officer should determine whether there is enough evidence for a court-martial and offer a recommendation to the Commanding General of the . Pantano's General will then determine whether to proceed with the court-martial or modify the charges. Pantano could be sentenced to death.
Pantano and two of his Marines apprehended two suspects and their vehicle. He ordered his men to secure the vehicle. He made the suspects pull apart their own vehicle (he was looking for IED or hidden weapons). While his men were not looking, he is accused of shooting the suspects in the back. Pantano then vandalized their vehicle and put a sign on it with his division's tag-line - No better friend, no worse enemy.
No one saw him shoot the suspects. He admitted shooting the suspects (Pantano reported it himself). His unit investigated the incident and dismissed the charges. After arriving back home, he found that he was charged with murder.
JarheadDad sent this excellent article about the incident and Ilario Pantano. It's seven pages long, but it's very, very good.
Here's a part about Pantano's accuser, Sergeant Coburn:
...One day on patrol, Coburn’s squad stopped for a break. There’d been enemy activity in the area. His guys were taking off their helmets within sight of unsearched buildings. “Men follow men into combat because they believe that they can keep them alive,” Pantano believes, and kind of flipped out. “Pantano is going to do it right,” explains one officer. “He has no sympathy for someone who’s not up there. He doesn’t take it easy on anybody.”
Pantano called the squad in. Why hadn’t Coburn posted security? Coburn told him the buildings had been checked yesterday. “You’re fucking fired,” Pantano recalls telling Coburn. “We’re parked in the middle of a kill box,” he told the squad. “It’s a miracle that we’re not all in a bag right now.”
Pantano and Sergeant Glew talked it over. “We could have very easily told the company commander he was incompetent as a sergeant and requested a reduction in rank,” says Glew. “We gave him the benefit of the doubt because he still gave his all, he still had good intentions.” So Coburn was reassigned. He might not be a warrior, an emasculating fact in this tribe; still, he was smart. He’d be the radio operator, tagging along with the medic and Pantano.
Coburn would later say that he was transferred to radio operator to help out with a platoon problem. “I went to the radio ’cause . . . I knew what I was doing on the radio,” Coburn says. “If I got fired . . . it didn’t sound like it to me.” But every Marine knows that radio operator is a job two or three pay grades below sergeant...
Worst case (I hope), I think Pantano will be discharged. He's done with the Marines - one way or another. Which is unfortunate, as every Marine that I come into contact with thinks the world of Lieutenant Pantano.
[Part 1 from February 15th is here]
Update 04-26-05: Correction about the initial charges on Pantano in Iraq. They were not dismissed. Pantano reported the incident and charges weren't made until later.
And, since the case is really just beginning today, many developments may change the landscape of the case. We'll be watching.
Again, war sucks.