MARINE LIETUTENANT ILARIO PANTANO SPEAKS OUT IN HIS FIRST TELEVISION INTERVIEW -- SUNDAY, MARCH 20 ON "DATELINE NBC"
MARINE LIEUTENANT FACING MURDER CHARGES SPEAKS OUT IN HIS FIRST TELEVISION INTERVIEW TO NBC'S STONE PHILLIPS �
SUNDAY, MARCH 20 ON "DATELINE NBC"
Lieutenant Pantano Says, "To Protect the Lives of My Men,
I Would Do It Again In A Moment"
(New York, N.Y.) - March 18, 2005 - In April 2004, while deployed in Iraq, Marine 2nd Lieutenant Ilario Pantano shot and killed two Iraqi detainees in his custody. Although Pantano claimed the shootings were in self-defense, the Marine Corps filed criminal charges against him, including two counts of premeditated murder. If tried and convicted, Pantano could face the death penalty. In his first television interview, Pantano defends his actions. He tells "Dateline" anchor Stone Phillips that he would do it again to protect his life and the lives of his men. The interview will be broadcast on Sunday, March 20 (7:00 PM, ET/PT).
April 2004 was one of the deadliest months for American forces in Iraq. Lieutenant Pantano, a native New Yorker who attended the prestigious Horace Mann School and was serving his second tour as a Marine, was assigned to an area of heavy insurgent activity south of Baghdad. On April 15, the platoon under his command was about to conduct a house search when two Iraqi men in a vehicle attempted to drive away. Pantano ordered his Marines to stop the car. The two Iraqis were taken into custody and handcuffed, while one of his men searched their vehicle. No weapons were found in the car, but a cache was discovered in the house. Pantano tells "Dateline" that in the moments that followed he had the detainees uncuffed and ordered them to conduct a second search of their vehicle. Pantano says less than a minute into the search the Iraqis began speaking to one another in muffled voices in Arabic and then, in unison, turned toward him. Pantano emptied a magazine from his M-16 rifle, reloaded, and emptied a second magazine � firing a total of fifty to sixty bullets. He tells Phillips, "I didn't wait to see if there was a grenade. I didn't wait to see if there was a knife. And, unfortunately, there are a lot of dead soldiers and Marines who have waited...too long. And my men weren't gonna' be those dead soldiers or Marines and neither was I." After the shooting, Pantano wrote "No better friend, No worse enemy," the unofficial motto of the 1st Marine Division in Iraq, on a piece of cardboard and placed it on the car above the bodies.
Lieutenant Pantano claims the initial reaction from his superiors was congratulatory. But two months after the shooting, an official investigation was launched. Pantano was pulled from the field and relieved of his platoon command. Last month, the formal charges were filed. In addition to premeditated murder, the charges included desecration of the dead for placing that sign on the car.
"The charges are, quite frankly, ridiculous," Pantano tells "Dateline." Speaking of the men he shot, Pantano says, "They were bad guys in a bad area. At a very bad and dangerous time for us." Asked whether it was necessary to fire so many bullets, Pantano responds, "What's the right number of rounds to save your life? I would say it's enough until there is no more threat." "Unfortunately," he added, "Combat is a pretty ugly business."
David Corvo is the executive producer of "Dateline NBC."