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May 18, 2005
Journalistic Overkill

Michelle Malkin has been on top of the case of USMC 2nd Lt. Ilario G. Pantano from the beginning.

The Raleigh News & Observer, as part of the mainstream media that has thus far failed to convict the LT on charges of murder, now suggests that as a fallback position he be disciplined by the Marine Corps for committing "overkill."

Given the media's inclination to commit journalistic overkill in stories that make the military look bad, I'm disinclined to take their suggestion seriously.

Today's edition of the N&O editorializes on the case:

A Camp Lejeune Marine officer who fired repeatedly into the bodies of two Iraqis should be disciplined for poor judgment

I'd love to know which article of the Uniform Code of Military Justice covers "poor judgement."

It would be understandable if the U.S. Marine Corps dismissed murder charges against 2nd Lt. Ilario G. Pantano, based at Camp Lejeune, in the deaths of two Iraqi men last year. It would be a travesty, though, if the matter ended right there.

Only because the press won't otherwise get their pound of flesh out of the case.

Those who fight America's battles around the world must hew to the highest standards of professional military conduct. Right now in Iraq, that's crucial if our armed forces hope to win citizens' hearts and minds away from the insurgents who continue their violent resistance to the American presence and to Iraq's new government. To be of help to that government as it attempts to get organized and establish security, U.S. troops must be seen as the good guys.

I suspect one way to be seen as good guys would be to kill bad guys.

What happened in the Iraqi city of Mahmudiyah on April 15, 2004, hurt America's cause, just as the notorious instances in which U.S. personnel have abused Iraqi prisoners have hurt it.

Frankly, I don't see how. Killing bad guys is rather the whole point, isn't it?

As three dozen Marines moved toward a suspected hideout for insurgents, two men tried to drive away. With rifles, the soldiers disabled the car and ordered the two men out. Pantano feared booby traps so he had the prisoners pull apart the car's seats.

As they went about it, speaking in Arabic, the men are said to have moved in Pantano's direction, which the Marine interpreted as an attack. Pantano opened fire, emptying 80 percent of his ammunition into the bodies.

Eighty percent? If we're talking about an M-16 with a 30-round magazine, that means 24 rounds. Frankly, considering the relative ineffectiveness of the 5.56mm round, if I wanted to kill someone until I was absolutely certain they were dead-dead-dead I'd have considered reloading and shooting some more.

[The same goes if the LT was using the 9mm Beretta sidearm.]

He then posted a sign over them with a Marine slogan: "No Better Friend, No Worse Enemy."

I fail to see a problem. Certainly the terrorists in question didn't care.

After hearing the evidence for and against Pantano, Maj. Mark E. Winn recommended last week that the premeditated murder charges, carrying the death penalty, be dropped against him.

Perhaps that's in part because the charges were prompted by the complaints of a disgruntled subordinate who is probably making the rounds of the Upper West Side "we're-not-against-the-war-we're-on-the-other-side" cocktail circuit.

It was combat, after all, and Pantano followed the rules of engagement -- up to a point.

I'm sure the News&Observer's editorial staff would be happier if 2LT Pantano had called in an airstrike to convert the terrorists into a pink mist... that wouldn't have been "overkill," would it?

Look: dead is dead, regardless of how you get there.

Yet Pantano's own account of his actions, as quoted by The Wilmington Star-News, was damning:

Damning? Only if one is predisposed to damn the Lieutenant, as no doubt the editorialist is. Instead, I say three cheers for 2LT Pantano.

"I had made a decision that when I was firing I was going to send a message to these Iraqis and others that when we say, 'No better friend, no worse enemy,' we mean it."

An auxiliary message might be "when you've been captured by Marines and they tell you to do something, listen and obey."

[I suspect, however, that what the LT was really thinking was more along the lines of "Die, terrorist a**holes!" The quote above sounds like an after-the-fact embellishment.]

Rambo-type behavior

You could tell that was coming, couldn't you?

is unbecoming any American in uniform, particularly one in a leadership position. Emptying a rifle into the bodies of dead men evokes the tactics of the tyrants and terrorists that U.S. forces went to Iraq to oppose.

No, the tactics of the tyrants and terrorists are more along the lines of

  • emptying machineguns into the living bodies of women and children and bulldozing them into mass graves,
  • using chemical weapons against villages,
  • kidnapping and beheading civilians, and
  • driving explosive-laden vehicles into crowds.

To suggest that there is some sort of moral equivalence is both absurd and morally repugnant. The N&O ought to be ashamed of itself.

Marine commanders must send a message to the troops that such behavior won't be tolerated.

It's one thing to, for instance, make necklaces of the ears of dead enemies, but another thing altogether to make those enemies dead in the first place. The former is not to be tolerated. The latter, however it is achieved, is the point of combat, isn't it?

[Bear in mind, also, that illegal combatants have only the "rights" we choose to let them have. That they are not summarily tried and executed is a mercy we grant them, but which we would be technically within our rights to withhold.]

The hearing officer's sensible recommendation is for Pantano to be disciplined for the way he dealt with suspected enemies, rather than be court-martialed for murder. It is Maj. Gen. Richard Huck who must make a call recognizing both the difficult demands on soldiers and the national values they represent.

As an aside, I'd like to note that soldiers are held to higher standards of conduct than members of the press are. Make of that what you will.

A decision of uncommon wisdom is needed.

Which is why the Marine Corps will make the decision, not the staff of the News&Observer.

[Non sequiter: by all means, make Outside the Beltway a regular read.]

Posted by Russ at 06:27 PM, May 18, 2005 in Soldiers/Vets

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Good fisk, Russ!

Posted by: RheGirl [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 18, 2005 06:29 PM