Marine Officer: Murderer or Combatant?
A Marine Second Lieutenant has been charged in the murder of two Iraqi men in what has become another "fog of war" debate.
In searching for the details surrounding this case, I have found differing accounts of what happened. What is clear is that during a confrontation with two suspected insurgents on April 15th 2004, Second Lieutenant Pantano felt threatened enough that he opened fire, killing both men. It is also known that a field investigation found him not guilty of wrong-doing. For unknown reasons, he has since been charged anew with pre-meditated murder.
Otherwise, the circumstances are not clear. I have found several reports stating that he was investigating a suspected weapons cache and the two Iraqis ran out of the hide-out; still others claim that the incident took place during a check-point stop, after Lt. Pantano instructed the men to strip their car in search of explosives.
I would submit that, not knowing the facts, it is at least appropriate to suggest that this soldier should be given some benefit of doubt. In modern guerilla warfare, especially in an area rife with suicide bombers, sudden death can come to our troops in many forms. It may indeed come down to a fighting man's intuition to interpret when a threat is present, with nary a nonasecond to react and save himself and others present.
Second Lieutenant Pantano's mother, Merry Pantano, said "Isn't it amazing? 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 has started a website, www.defendthedefenders.org.