This is the powerful true story of the Marine lieutenant who, having fought for his country in the first Gulf War, went on to professional success in finance, only to be compelled to reenlist in the wake of 9/11. Leaving behind an ex-model wife and two children, he served once again in Iraq -- and was charged by the U.S. military with murder.
Ilario Pantano has always been a warrior at heart -- it's the force that drives him, that defines his core being and his life. But on April 15, 2004, just a few moments during the most violent and chaotic month in the Iraq War would change his life forever. On a raid in the Sunni hotbed of the Al Anbar province, Lieutenant Pantano shot and killed two Iraqi insurgents. Months later, while successfully leading Marines during the explosive surge in terrorist activity, including the battles for Fallujah, one of his own men disputed Pantano's self-defense claim in the Al Anbar shootings. Pantano was relieved of his command and charged with premeditated murder, a crime punishable by death.
Now for the first time, in his own words, Pantano recounts his gripping and controversial story in Warlord, the memoir of a patriot who prepared to reenlist as the Twin Towers fell on September 11, 2001, ten years after his service as an elite Marine sniper and veteran of Desert Storm. Warlord is the story of an unconventional fighter who combined his professional and military experiences to protect the lives of his men and win both on battlefields and in the courtroom. In the face of a widely publicized military hearing, Pantano's family "attacked into the ambush," launching a Defend-the-Defenders campaign that was met with overwhelming support nationwide. Pantano was cleared of all charges. But most surprising of all, the heart of the patriot has not been embittered as he calls on his fellow Americans to stand strong in the face of our enemies.
A harrowing, redemptive, and singular contribution to the literature of war, Ilario Pantano's inspiring story brings an unrivaled human dimension to the conflict in Iraq, to the unyielding idealism that drives its American fighting men and women, and to the unexpected consequences and uncompromised faith that can emerge from the brutal, chaotic, and irreversible nature of combat.
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May 20, 2006
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Excerpt from Warlord by Ilario Pantano
Major Stephen Keane, the lead government prosecutor, was using his most persuasive courtroom voice. Even though this was the fifth and final day of the Article 32 hearing -- the military equivalent of a grand jury -- Keane might have been pressing his case to a general court-martial's panel of senior officers.
"...The elements are that these two people are dead," he said, striding between the prosecution's table to the left and the dais in the right corner where the investigating officer, Major Mark Winn, presided. "That the death resulted from Second Lieutenant Pantano shooting them. His own confession and the witness statements established that..."
My civilian defense counsel, Charlie Gittins, seated beside me to the left, tensed in his chair, about to rise and object. With close-cropped hair and reading glasses on the tip of his nose, Charlie looked benign, maybe an accountant or a State Farm agent. Big mistake. Charlie was a pit bull, a meat eater. He'd graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy and practiced law as a Marine officer, ultimately becoming a lieutenant colonel in the reserves. And during years in private practice, he had earned a reputation as the most effective defense attorney practicing at the military bar.
Keane was taunting us with the word "confession." In the twelve months since that sunset encounter with the insurgents near Mahmudiyah, I had been debriefed by my intel guys and made one official statement to the executive officer of Regimental Combat Team 1. Sure, I killed people, and I commanded my men to kill even more of them, but I had never confessed to any crime.
"...The killing of these two people by the accused was unlawful." Keane let his words register. There was a closed-circuit television camera mounted in the right rear corner of the courtroom, feeding the proceedings to the press in another building. "...At the time and place of the killing the accused had a premeditated design to kill these people..."
Now Charlie did rise to object. But Major Winn overruled him, noting he would not permit objections to the closing arguments, whether the government's or ours.
Keane rocked confidently on the soles of his tan boots. He was lanky in pressed cammies, seemingly a combat-hardened Marine. But he had no combat experience. None. Still, he was dangerous. His mission was to see me executed or sitting in federal prison for the rest of my life.