Monday, April 18, 2005

I Know That Alleged Murderer...

I’m not sure whether it was from fatigue, disgust, a sense of helplessness or a combination of the three, but I admit I’d stopped paying attention to the details of stories coming out of Iraq months ago. So when I first heard about the U.S. Marine charged with premeditated murder in the killing of two Iraqi insurgents last April, it was another horror story I simply let go. I probably just shook my head, condemned the Marine for his bloodlust, and thought, “two more dead courtesy of the great liberator.”

Yes, I know war is more complicated than this. I know mine was a knee-jerk reaction that didn’t take into account the nuances of danger our soldiers feel, or even the possibility that this American soldier was innocent of the crimes for which he stands accused. I realize I should be more thoughtful on these matters. However, it wasn’t until I learned—just yesterday—that I actually know the Marine who now faces the death penalty for these murders, that this story’s full impact rocked me.

I worked with Lt. Ilario Pantano on “Lateline,” a sitcom starring Al Franken, a few years ago. Ilario, who had already faithfully served in the Marines during the first Gulf War, was truly beloved by the cast and crew. He was gregarious, incredibly friendly and always respectful. And, with his floppy Hugh Grant hair and easy smile, he was so attractive, he had a fan club of female admirers, myself included. To think that this man now stands accused of a premeditated double murder is beyond surreal.
This is part of the story as reported in the New York Daily News:A Warrior Faces Toughest Battle

Pantano and his men, a Marine sergeant and a Navy hospitalman, opened fire on a white sedan fleeing a suspected insurgent hideout in Mahmudiyah, near Baghdad.
Two men were pulled from the disabled car. Initially they were handcuffed, but Pantano ordered the cuffs removed and told the suspects to take out the seats to see if there were any hidden weapons or explosives. Pantano would later tell investigators that the detainees began talking to each other in Arabic. In his limited Arabic, he ordered them to stop. They pivoted toward him, he said, and, fearing they were attacking, he opened fire.

The charge sheet presents a dramatically different picture. After ordering the hospitalman to remove the handcuffs from the detainees, the report says, Pantano told his men "to take up posts facing away" and then shot both suspects - identified as Hamaady Kareem and Tahah Ahmead Hanjil - "in the back with an M16A service rifle." He then placed the bodies "on display to send a message to the local people" and placed "a sign stating 'No Better Friend, No Worse Enemy'" above their corpses.
The slogan is the 1st Marine Division motto, oft-repeated by its commander, Maj. Gen. James Mattis, one of Pantano's heroes. But weeks before the incident, Mattis had added an admonition: "First, do no harm," he said. It was a pointed warning not to engage in unnecessary bloodshed.

Pantano's defense team maintains the case is based solely on the allegations of the sergeant at the scene, who did not report it for two months. They describe the man as "disgruntled" because Pantano had removed him as a squad leader.

Frankly, I don’t know what to think. I can’t imagine that the man I knew could possibly be capable of anything like this. And yet, I’ve never been on a battlefield. I can’t even begin to imagine the stress these men and women are under. I can’t conceive of what must be going through their heads on a daily basis, seeing the violence, death and bloodshed, knowing that they could be hurt, maimed or killed at any moment. Certainly this knowledge doesn’t excuse behavior like that depicted. But we are at war and war is an ugly enterprise. Bad things happen in wars, bad things are supposed to happen in wars, that’s why they’re wars. That’s why using war only as a last resort seems the only sensible option.

I’m sure I’ll never hear what really happened on that day in Iraq, to be honest, I don’t really want to. Either way it’s a tragedy, two men are dead and another’s life has been changed irrevocably. Ilario’s mother has set up a website for him,, and more information is available there.
I would very much like to believe that Ilario is innocent of these charges, and I will gladly donate to his defense. It’s absolutely excruciating to think that I would ever have to do this though.

I’m now more convinced than ever that we must take a stand to end this war before more senseless tragedy occurs and more lives are ruined.


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