Gittens concurred. “I think they did the autopsies to implicate Ilario because we had blown up the hearing. The purpose of the autopsies was to get inculpatory evidence, not exculpatory evidence” (italic mine). Two days after the report was submitted to the Pentagon, Huck announced that all charges were being dropped, citing the autopsy as evidence.
None of it mattered to leftists determined to get Mr. Pantano. The charge, rather than the verdict, became fodder for several stories. Just prior to the charges being dropped, New York Magazine ran a story on May 21, 2005, wondering whether or not the “Manhattan preppy…with a handsome face, angled like a cat’s, and a soldier’s telltale crew cut,” was a murderer.
When Pantano resigned his commission, moved to North Carolina and ran for Congress in 2010, the stories became less speculative and more accusatory. Salon magazine ran a piece titled “From accused murderer to member of Congress?” wondering if a man who “killed two unarmed Iraqis and embraces Islamophbia could wind up in Congress.” The Daily Beast ran a story on “Jack Bauer Republicans” and referred to Pantano as one of two “renegade soldiers” running for office. Part of that story included comments by Pantano’s defeated primary opponent, Will Breazeale, who contended “there’s no excuse for what [Pantano] did.” Breazeale promised to do everything he could to assure Pantano’s defeat. The North Carolina Democratic Party (NCDP) paid for a website that ran articles accusing Pantano of “changing his story,” claiming his version of the incident “is not one of self-defense,” and contending that “future Marine Corpsmen have noticed Pantano and are learning what NOT to do.”
Pantano lost the election. And his story might have ended then were it not for one man: William Rodriguez. Rodriguez had been bothered by the “rush to judgment” in the case and convinced the Marines to exhume the bodies five years later. “I informed the NCIS agent and others in the office that the remains of the two deceased Iraqis should be exhumed and examined, as that is the only way one can scientifically prove what happened.”
In late November, Rodriguez did just that. He proved the two men had been shot from the front, not the back. Furthermore, he went public with his criticism of the Marine Corps and Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS). “In a case like this, if I was charged with something, I would insist that the forensic evidence be looked at before I would be found guilty,” Rodriguez told the Washington Times. “They were looking at really going after him, making an example of him.”
He then added a sentence that ought to give pause to anyone willing to render judgment in this case, or any other combat incident–while sitting safely in front of a computer. “People were kind of second-guessing the soldier in the field in a wartime situation. That to me, personally, upset me for people try to second-guess a soldier who’s in the field facing danger every day, not knowing who is their friend or foe.”
Pantano, whose memoir, “Warlord: Broken by War, Saved by Grace,” is currently being re-released in paperback, plans to run for Congress again in 2012. As he explained in an interview on Fox News, “I was on the ground in Fallujah when it was a bloodbath. Your audience remembers contractors hanging from a bridge.” Regarding the specific incident, he remained firm. “I was defending myself…but without autopsy evidence there was no way to know for sure..the doctor who did the autopsies…has come forward to say this should never have happened and that I was an innocent man.”
Now the whole world knows. It remains to be seen whether those so quick to render judgment against Iliaro Pantano will be willing to offer their apologies to a war hero who has now been vindicated–for the second time.
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