Assumption of Command

04 June 2005

My Thoughts on Lt. Pantano

I have had a lot of mixed feelings about the LT Pantano case. I have come to the conclusion that my opinions in this matter might bother some people so I have kept them to myself. But now that it is over, I am going to say my two cents. I don't expect everybody to agree with me and I don't mind if you do, as this case can really bring out some emotions.

If you haven't heard LT Pantano has resigned. And I think it is for the best for a few different reasons.

Before I get in to why, we need to get the basics out in the open. LT Pantano, and his unit here in Iraq, saw some heavy action. The proverbial "pucker factor" was high. In the course of a mission 2 gentlemen rushed up to Pantano and he reacted, first by warning them to stop, but it progressed until Pantano was forced to defend himself by killing these two gentlemen.

Stop here for a second. If we look at these facts, we see a Marine lawfully defending himself. I totally agree with Pantano's actions. The fact that these two gentlemen were not bad guys is not part of the consideration. They were acting in a threatening manner. It is the right of every Marine, Sailor and soldier to defend themselves if threatened. That is something that is ingrained not only in our training, but Regulation and Law, not to mention instincts. If we take this right away, we harm the confidence of our troops and in turn this would lead to the inability to complete missions and wage war.

Unfortunately, the story does not stop there. When LT Pantano defended himself, he did so to the extreme. He unloaded not 1 but two full magazines. He put 60 rounds into 2 men. And to add insult to death, he placed a sign above the remains as a warning to others.

In the laws of war there is a rule of proportionality. It says use the least available means necessary to accomplish a task. In layman’s terms don't use a nuke to swat a fly. His actions, which are a matter of record, violate that principle. At some point in time these two individuals were no longer a threat and that is when, by law, LT Pantano needed to stop firing. He even had time, while changing clips, to think about this. This is kind of like defining pornography, it is very difficult to do, but you know it when you see it.

To make matters worse he used the remains as an example for the bad guys to see. I am sorry, but these are the tactics of the bad guys. This is immoral and should not be tolerated. Remember the US Contractors that were hung in the streets. This is not the actions of a leader in the US Military. This is a poor example to set for the troops. Yes, I know I wasn't there, but the facts are undeniable as LT Pantano has officially agreed to them.

If Pantano would have just stopped at defending himself we wouldn't be taking about this at all. But instead these actions brought an investigation and a murder charge.

The Article 32 hearing, the Grand Jury equivalent, recommended the murder charges be dropped, but Pantano should face Non-judicial punishment for the other actions.

Major General Huck dropped the murder charges. That was the right thing to do. Pantano was defending himself when he killed the two gentlemen. I have no doubt in my mind Pantano is not a murderer. This decision by MG Huck protects the right of all other service members in battle and I praise him for that.

Now we see the Pantano has resigned his commission and will be leaving the Corps. I said above that this is a good thing. Why? I have a couple reasons.

First, LT Pantano had the respect of the men in his unit. There is no better compliment that can be given to an officer. But, As I have said, Pantano's actions are not that of an leader. His Integrity is now scarred. He has set a poor example for troops. He has paid the price for this in the press through this process and it will haunt him for a very long time. It will follow him to every unit he goes. That kind of attention is not needed in a combat unit.

Secondly, The Marines needed to get this case over with and put it behind them. This has been a black mark on the Corps and needs to be buried.

I think Lt Pantano should still be responsible for his actions beyond defending himself. Now comes a bit of speculation on my part. It wouldn't surprise me if Major General Huck and LT Pantano made an under the table agreement to let these charges go away if he left the Corps. Pantano's attorney has claimed that Pantano's goal was to go back to a combat unit. Why the change of heart now? Was there a deal made?

Anyhow, I think in the end the right thing was done. This is now in the past and both Pantano (who probably has movie and book deals lined up) and the Corps can get on with life.