Marine's Shooting of Iraqis Justified, Probe Concludes
Sunday, May 15, 2005
NEW YORK -- A Marine officer who killed two Iraqi prisoners should be cleared of dereliction of duty and murder charges that carried a possible death sentence, a formal military probe has concluded.
Lt. Col. Mark E. Winn, the investigating officer, called the April 15, 2004, shooting by 2nd Lt. Ilario Pantano justified and said it fell within the rules of combat in the Sunni Triangle. In a report dated Thursday, Winn urged that all felony charges be dropped.
Prosecutors maintained that the former Wall Street trader, 33, executed the unarmed detainees as they knelt with their backs turned. The victims were captured as they fled an insurgent mortar position.
"The government was not able to produce credible evidence or testimony that the killings were premeditated," Winn wrote.
He also said there was no proof the detainees were shot in the back. He said blood splatters in photos of the victims "are more consistent with Lt. Pantano's version."
Pantano said the men had turned to face him and he believed they were about to attack him. He admitted emptying one magazine of bullets into the Iraqis, then reloading and firing 30 more rounds.
Winn considered the shooting excessive and recommended that Pantano receive nonjudicial punishment for conduct unbecoming an officer.
"Shooting 30 extra rounds of ammunition into two bodies to send a message [to the enemy] is not moral and just," he wrote. "Once we allow ourselves to traverse down that slope, we become no better than the insurgents we are fighting."
Penalties for nonjudicial punishment include 30 days' arrest in quarters and forfeiture of half a month's pay for two months.
Pantano continues to serve as a Marine training officer at Camp Lejeune, N.C., as he awaits a decision from Maj. Gen. Richard Huck, commander of the 2nd Marine Division in Iraq, on whether to drop charges.