Former Marine Corps officer, Ilario Pantano, is running for Congress in NC District 7. His campaign was ambushed with hate mail and death threats due to a rash of extremely negative blog posts and articles that were coordinated as part of Daily Kos’ “Googlebomb” strategy (Pantano is a primary target). Even the North Carolina Democratic Party got in on the shameful act, hosting a trashy attack site deliberately distorting Pantano’s military service and smearing his family.
It is painfully obvious that the people who email profane rants or outraged “inquiries” are not interested in the truth, only in furthering a malicious and erroneous account of the outcome of a combat mission in 2004 when Ilario killed two insurgents in Iraq. They are set on propagandizing a military situation that they know nothing about – even when all the facts are publicly available.
The threats today are as deranged as the ones he faced down after his Article 32. Leftists threatened to shoot Ilario’s wife and children in the back if he won his congressional race, and others threatened that they would bring civil suits on behalf of the insurgents Ilario killed in Iraq. It’s absolutely unhinged. The derangement evident in such threats looks the same from Muslim jihadists and American leftists alike.
So here we are, six years after the fact, and the mainstream media is now brazenly changing public accounts of the incident and altering details to better suit their new narrative: that Lt. Pantano murdered “innocent” Iraqis by shooting them in the back, and got away with it due to a complicit and corrupt Marine Corps.
I’m going to set the record straight. It won’t slow down the coordinated assault from the NC Democratic Party, Daily Kos, the Democratic Underground and their minions. And it certainly won’t have any impact on the election – Pantano is doing just fine among the decent people of North Carolina! But we cannot let the Left have carte blanche to rewrite history!
There are a couple of things to remember about the context of Pantano’s combat incident in Iraq. It occurred a couple of weeks after the Blackwater contractors were murdered, dragged through the streets of Fallujah, burned and hung from a bridge to great celebration. It was the height of violence and combat in the Fallujah area. Lt. Pantano had led his platoon on numerous combat patrols and encountered combat every time (sometimes several times a day), and yet due to his rigorous drilling and training of the Marines in his charge, he always brought them back safely with no injuries or deaths.
In April of 2004, the Warlord battalion had solid intelligence of a compound of Al Qaeda-trained and equipped operatives in a town near Fallujah, and Lt. Pantano’s seasoned platoon was sent to clear them out. It was a combat patrol. When they approached and surrounded the compound, they captured a car attempting to escape. Two Iraqi men were detained and the Marines quickly searched their vehicle, not initially finding anything. However, the intelligence was correct, and the compound turned out to be a terrorist HQ – the Marines found weapons, explosives, and Al Qaeda training literature and propaganda inside.
After that discovery, Lt. Pantano ordered the insurgents to search their vehicle again because he was concerned that they were escaping with explosives of the kind found in the compound – easy to conceal behind dashboards and insides seats, etc. While they were taking apart the inside of their own vehicle (Pantano did not want to risk his men on a potentially explosively-rigged vehicle), the men spoke rapidly to each other in Arabic. When they both suddenly turned and lunged in his direction, he immediately thought they had uncovered a weapon or bomb and were going to kill him and his Marines in the vicinity. He had a split second to decide. They both ignored his shouted order (in English and Arabic) to STOP and so he shot them.
A large part of the narrative is that he emptied two magazines into them and later placed a cardboard sign on the hood of their vehicle with his battalion’s motto: “No better friend, no worse enemy.” Pantano always stated that he intended to send a message to their enemies. However, he thought better of the sign and removed it shortly thereafter.
Why the captured insurgents did what they did, we can only speculate. They were captured in a known terrorist compound. They certainly had information the Marines could use to conduct combat operations in Fallujah. Their inexplicable decision to make a threatening move toward an armed and alert Marine is consistent with “suicide by Marine.”
To this day, Pantano does not regret killing the enemy during that mission, and his military judgment is universally regarded as sound – he was a top-notch officer and never lost a Marine in combat. None of his Marines were injured or died until after he left the combat zone to return to Camp Lejeune to face charges of premeditated murder (brought months later by a disgruntled and demoted Marine – ironically demoted for his failure in operational security). It just about killed Pantano to be separated from his men during the height of combat operations in Iraq. He was, and is, a leader who always leads from the front.
Immediately after the patrol, Lt. Pantano himself reported the shooting, and there was an immediate investigation wherein the shooting of known enemy combatants on the battlefield was deemed justified. It was not until several months later that a disgruntled and demoted Marine, Sgt. Daniel Coburn, complained to his chain of command about the incident, levying charges that his platoon leader had gone crazy and killed innocent men for no reason by shooting them in the back.
The Marine Corps was obliged to open yet another investigation, this time in full glare of the world’s hostile media, and Pantano became the first American service member in Iraq prosecuted for doing his job as he was trained to do – killing the enemy in combat. He was also ludicrously charged with destruction of private property for shooting out the tires of the vehicle and having the Iraqi suspects tear out the seats of their own vehicle to search for bombs.
During the highly scrutinized Article 32 hearing, Coburn reinvented his version of events multiple times, in contrast with Lt. Pantano who never wavered in his account of what happened. Coburn was discredited by his own testimony of false statements and was read his Miranda rights, while Pantano had dozens of character witnesses to vouch for him. Pantano was fully exonerated, and the Marine Corps dropped all charges.
A very important fact that the Leftist hit pieces never mention at all: the bodies of the killed insurgents were exhumed and forensically examined. The forensic evidence CORROBORATED Pantano’s testimony that he shot them as they moved toward him. He DID NOT shoot the men in the back, contrary to the popular narrative currently circulating the web.
The autopsies were completed last week at Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in Maryland and they supported Lt. Pantano’s statement that he shot the men as they came at him.
“The initial findings of the autopsies did not support the allegation that 2nd Lt. Pantano committed premeditated murder,” Lt. Edwards said. “Rather, the initial findings corroborated 2nd Lt. Pantano’s version of events.”
There are several more things I can offer : 1) Ilario’s account via his own words; and, 2) blog coverage and news articles of the incident. I’ve included some links below.
Blackfive, an award-winning military blog, posted real-time coverage and you can see how the story developed in the military community, both pro and con.
In 2005, the very public Article 32 hearing was covered by over 50 local and national media outlets, including all the major TV networks and newspapers. Real time coverage was available all over the web, but has been buried under a deluge of newly re-written accounts. After a five day hearing with dozens of witnesses and statements, and classified rules of Engagement (ROE), the recommendation of the hearing officer was that all the charges brought against Pantano be dropped. The commanding general agreed. The prosecution’s main witness was read his rights and furthermore autopsy evidence cleared Pantano (and confirmed that neither attacker had been shot in the back, as the media has wrongly asserted).
In Pantano’s best selling book on his case, 50% of the book is actual courtroom transcript. Although he was granted another combat command, he chose to resign his commission because his family had been targeted by extremists from Pakistan and they had received death threats. The FBI notified the NCIS about the threat against the Pantano family. Later in 2005, the FBI would warn them of surveillance activity by a domestic “cell” in Ohio.
In 2006, Ilario became a deputy sheriff in New Hanover County North Carolina. After graduating at the top of his class in law enforcement training, he underwent a thorough review by the North Carolina sheriffs standards commission (2007) and was fully certified by the State of North Carolina.
Republican Congressman Walter Jones, appalled at the mistreatment of an honorable Marine in the questionable pursuit of political correctness on the battlefield, took up Pantano’s cause in Washington D.C., with the following House Resolution.
Mr. JONES of North Carolina. Mr. Speaker, I have spoken several times about Second Lieutenant Ilario Pantano, a Marine who served our Nation bravely in both Gulf Wars and who now stands accused of murder for defending himself and this country.
During his service in Iraq last year, Lieutenant Pantano was faced with a very difficult situation that caused him to make a split-second decision to defend his life. He felt threatened by the actions of two insurgents under his watch; and in an act of self-defense, he had to resort to force; 2 1/2 months later, a sergeant under his command, who never saw the shooting, accused him of murder. Lieutenant Pantano now faces two counts of murder.
Mr. Speaker, what is happening to this young man is an injustice. Lieutenant Pantano has served this Nation with great honor. My personal experiences with him and his family convince me that he is a dedicated family man and a man who loves his corps and his country.
But I am not the only one who believes he is innocent. Yesterday, I read excerpts of pieces from the Washington Times and respected journalist Mona Charen defending Lieutenant Pantano.
I have received letters and e-mails from Vietnam veterans who sympathize with him and ask that I do something to help him. They know what it is like to be in battle with an unconventional enemy. One second can make the difference between life and death.
I have read excerpts from his combat fitness report in which his superiors praised his leadership and talent, even recommended him for promotion.
Mr. Speaker, Lieutenant Pantano was, by all accounts, an exceptional Marine.
Yesterday, Lieutenant Pantano and his attorneys waived his right to have an article 32 hearing and had decided that they want to go straight to trial. They are so convinced that he will be proven innocent that they want to speed the process along.
In a letter yesterday, Lieutenant Pantano’s mother wrote: “My son, our family, and millions of concerned citizens, Marines and soldiers were assured that the article 32 pretrial hearing would bring everything out in the wash, and we have been patient with a process that has been grueling for my son’s family. The problem is that if the government is the machine and my son is the laundry, they are not adding any water.”
Thus far, the prosecution has not presented the witnesses and the evidence that they claim to have, and Lieutenant Pantano had no reason to believe that they would do so at the hearing. No such evidence appears to exist.
Mr. Speaker, I have put in a resolution, House Resolution 167, to support Lieutenant Pantano as he faces trial. I hope that my colleagues in the House will take some time to read my resolution, look into this situation for themselves. Lieutenant Pantano’s mother also has a Web site that I encourage people to visit. The address is www.defendthedefenders.org.
Mr. Speaker, as I close, I ask the good Lord in heaven to please bless our men and women in uniform whether in Iraq or Afghanistan, to bless them and their families across this country, and also I ask the good Lord to please be with the family of Lieutenant Pantano and that I believe he will be exonerated, and he is a great man, a great Marine; and God bless America.
Here is a recent note Ilario got from the mother of one of his Marines in Iraq:
Dear Lt. Pantano, I will always think of you that way, as you were my son’s commander in Iraq. I am in New York and did send your campaign a small donation, I wish I could have sent more. I have been following your progress closely and you are in my prayers daily. If I could cast my vote for you I would but I do not live in your district so my donation and my prayers for your victory on election day will have to do. I have every faith that you will win and when you do that you will do the job every bit as well as you did as the leader you were in Iraq when you brought my son and the rest of your men safely home.
God speed and Semper Fi, Marine.
Sincerely, Caroline D., proud Marine Mom and proud supporter of your campaign.
The bottom line is this: the Pantano case was duly settled by combat seasoned Marine officers who had full access to the the exhibits and witnesses and related materials, of which the transcript is only a small part. Under great public scrutiny, the Marine Corps made a decision on the case and saw fit to grant Lt. Pantano another combat command, which he honorably declined. That closes the book. Unfortunately, the presumption of innocence until proven guilty does not seem to apply to Republicans or Marines.
And yet, the facts are clear – Lt. Pantano was an exceptional Marine and leader. He did his job and killed the enemy! For that he was wrongfully accused of unjust actions by a disgruntled subordinate and his life, career, and family were dragged through the mud. He came through it all honorably.
Ilario Pantano’s unwavering character inspires a sense of confidence in patriotic Americans. He has devoted his life to service because he’s truly passionate about the American people and preserving our freedoms.
Pantano’s courageous military service has been maliciously mischaracterized during this election. The Left’s efforts to smear Pantano based upon erroneous and twisted information is downright unAmerican. They show more tolerance to our enemies than they have ever shown toward our own troops. There is an obvious political motivation for attacking Pantano’s military record, because all the evidence screams the truth and yet they still choose to ignore it.
So now…the rest of the story had to be retold.