We wrote here and here abou the case of Lt. Ilario Pantano, who was charged by the Marine Corps with murdering two Iraqis. Lt. Pantano’s account was that the two Iraqis were suspected terrorists who had been apprehended in connection with the search of a house where weapons and literature praising Osama bin Laden were found. Pantano said that the two men suddenly charged him, and he shot them in self-defense. The charge against Pantano originated with one of the Marines in his platoon, Sgt Coburn.
The charge against Lt. Pantano has now been investigated by Lt. Col. Mark Winn; Winn has filed a report of which Rowan Scarborough of the Washington Times obtained a copy. Col. Winn recommends that charges against Pantano be dropped, and that he not be court-martialled.
Col. Winn found that there is no eyewitness testimony to what happened other than Lt. Pantano’s, and no reason to disbelieve his account of what happened. His characterization of Sgt. Coburn, whom he calls “extremely suspect,” is scathing:
I think now [Sgt. Coburn] is in a position where he has told his story so many times, in so many versions that he cannot keep his facts straight anymore.
It is my opinion that Sgt. Coburn never really understood what had transpired during the shooting, and as time went by, he invented details to corroborate what he had built in his mind as what had happened. Sgt. Coburn does not tell one consistent story throughout this whole case.
Shortly before the incident, Lt. Pantano had demoted Sgt. Coburn from his position as squad leader and written fitness reports on Coburn that Scarborough describes as “potentially career-ending.” It is noteworthy, I think, that Coburn did not file a complaint against Lt. Pantano. Rather, he criticized Pantano to other Marines. The Corps got word of Coburn’s claims and initiated the investigation on its own. In my view, a charge made by a disgruntled Marine behind his commanding offier’s back, as to which the accuser does not have the courage to actually file a complaint, carries very little credibility. This looks like a happy ending for Lt. Pantano, whose own story is inspiring, as Scarborough notes:
Lt. Pantano also boasts a storybook life: After serving in the Marines as an enlisted man and graduating from New York University, he embarked on careers on Wall Street and then as a TV producer. But he gave up a comfortable Manhattan lifestyle and talked his way back into the Marine Corps at 31 to fight terrorists after the September 11 attacks by al Qaeda.