How to lose a war

If you haven’t heard the story of Marine Corps 2nd Lt. Ilario Pantano, you must have spent the last few days waiting faithfully outside your favorite NHL team’s arena waiting for the season to start. It’s not going to happen so listen up.

Lt. Pantano is a U.S. Marine who is being wrongly prosecuted for “murder” in the case of the shooting of two insurgents in Iraq last April.

April 2004 was the cruelest month in the Iraq insurgency. It was when the assault on Fallujah took place, as did significant action in Najaf and Sadr City. About one-third of the 147 U.S. servicemen killed that month were Marines. They were killed in firefights and ambushes, and risked explosive devices in the streets ” the kind of attacks that require split-second decisions to survive.

Lt. Pantano was in precisely such a situation south of Baghdad on April 15. He was leading a quick-reaction platoon raiding a house full of weapons. Two suspected terrorists had emerged from the house, got into an SUV and tried to flee. The lieutenant and his comrades shot out the SUV’s tires and made the suspects search the vehicle. When the suspects unexpectedly turned toward Lt. Pantano as if to rush him, Lt. Pantano ordered them in Arabic to stop. They didn’t. So Lt. Pantano made a split-second decision to preserve his life and those of his men. It turned out the two suspects were unarmed. Lt. Pantano reported the incident to his superiors, who investigated it and accepted his version of the story. He then served several more months with distinction.

He made a split-second life-or-death decision – which, given the circumstances, was completely reasonable. As a result, he’s being prosecuted with a possible death penalty outcome. The obvious question remains – if he was cleared by a “battlefield” investigation and served several more months in active duty, why the prosecution?

Noting that the combat incident was investigated at the time, clearing anyone of wrongdoing, Puckett said it “defies logic” that the case should be re-opened the following year with criminal charges.

Puckett said Marines now apparently must fear prosecutors as well as terrorists.

“Monday morning quarterbacking, in the absence of any evidence of criminal intent on the part of a trained Marine officer, is just the wrong way to run a war,” he said.

“If the officer made a mistake, that should end the matter. Mistakes are made in war. It sounds like Marine prosecutors are trying to justify their jobs by creating a case where there should not be one.”

Puckett said the “more ominous possibility” is that outside political pressure is causing military brass to turn against their young leaders.

The motivation may also have been personal, according to Pantano’s attorney, Charles Gittins.

Gittins, a Marine reserve, questions the thoroughness of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service probe that led to the charges, asserting that while his client has a track record of outstanding character and credibility, the accuser is suspect.

“There’s reason to believe he might not be a big fan of Lt. Pantano,” Gittins said.

He described the accuser as a “disgruntled” sergeant who holds the position of radio man, a non-leadership position that indicates he’s been put in a place where he can do the least harm.

“No one actually went and looked at the lack-of-credibility issues,” he said. “There is no evidence of any investigation.”

Pantano’s mom has helped get the story out via a new website: Defend the Defenders. The organization is using the Pantano incident as a launching pad for setting up a way to defend troops who may find themselves in similar situations in the future. Go visit the website for more about Lt. Pantano and find out how you can help if you’re so inclined.

The Pantano prosecution is yet another example of military-style political correctness that has infected our military and may eventually render it impotent if allowed to continue. It’s an infection that runs from the Commander-in-Chief all the way down through the ranks and President Junior’s leadership in the war on Iraq demonstrates that he is as driven by political correctness as any other weak-kneed Washington bureaucrat.

I haven’t really looked around the ‘sphere to see who’s on the case, but as I do, I’ll be adding links to this post accordingly. If you’ve already blogged about this, trackback or e-mail me and I’ll add a link to you.

Already on the case:

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