- May 19, 2004
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- Political Leaning
- Libertarian - Right
On April 15, 2004, while serving as a platoon commander in Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment in Iraq, Pantano was ordered to reconnoiter a reported terrorist hiding spot. He led his "quick-reaction" platoon to the site, a home in the town of Mahmudiyah, south of Baghdad and not far from the bloody town of Fallujah.
Pantano's orders were to raid the house and neutralize the reported nest of insurgents holed up there with their arms cache.
The intelligence turned out to be correct, and Pantano's Marines discovered weapons and bomb-making equipment in the house. As the Marines were securing the building, two Iraqis bolted from the site to a nearby truck, a sport utility vehicle.
The Marines charged after the suspects and brought the vehicle to a halt by shooting the tires out. Pantano ordered the pair out of the truck and, in accordance with standard operating procedures, told the captives to tear the interior of the truck apart to ensure that it was not booby-trapped.
What exactly happened next remains uncertain.
The Marine Corps has not released any official rendition of what it alleges happened. However, Pantano's civilian attorney, Charles Gittins, says that the two Iraqi men began chattering to one another, then the Iraqis made what Pantano determined to be a threatening move. When told to stop in their native language by Pantano, they continued in his direction.
As Pantano described it to the Naval Investigative Service:
"After another time of telling them to be quiet, they quickly pivoted their bodies toward each other. They did this simultaneously, while still speaking in muffled Arabic. I thought that they were attacking me, and I decided to fire my M-16A4 service rifle in self-defense. ..."
After the fact, it is determined that neither suspect was armed nor rigged with explosives.
Gittins advises, however, "After the killing, the number of attacks in that area went down to almost zero." It was not until months later when Pantano returned to Camp Lejeune that he was informed he was being charged with premeditated murder in the deaths of the two Iraqis – a charge that theoretically could carry the death penalty.