On a raid in the Sunni hotbed of the Al Anbar province during the most violent and chaotic phase of the war on terror, Lieutenant Ilario Pantano shot and killed two Iraqi insurgents. Months later, 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. This is Pantano's gripping story in his own words the story of a patriot who left behind his wife and children to fight for their future; the harrowing account of a military hearing that sparked a national "Defend the Defenders" campaign; and the inspiring choices of an unconventional warrior who continues to call on his fellow Americans to stand strong in the face of our enemies.
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About the Author
Ilario Pantano enlisted in the Marine Corps at 17, served in Desert Storm, became a sniper, and trained with militaries around the world. Eager for new challenges, Pantano left the Marines and earned his degree from New York University in three years, studying at night while working for the premier investment bank Goldman Sachs. Hungry for creative success, Pantano began producing and consulting in groundbreaking documentary television, film, and digital media. Witnessing the attacks of 9/11, Pantano fought to return to the Marines and, as a 31-year-old lieutenant, led an infantry platoon in Iraq. Pantano was honorably discharged from the Marine Corps in August 2005. He lives with his wife and children in North Carolina.
Malcolm McConnell is the coauthor of the #1 New York Times bestseller American Soldier with Tommy Franks and My Year in Iraq with L. Paul Bremer III.
Read an Excerpt
Article 32 Hearing
Camp Lejeune, North Carolina
30 April 2005
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.
In combat you learn to focus intently on the noises and movements that could kill or wound you or your men. An unnaturally straight line in the sand beside a road that might mark the buried det cord of an IED. Men changing a tire up on an overpass. A freshly cut palm trunk floating down a canal.
You also learn to filter out the nonessential sensory input...the stink of a dead donkey covered with flies, the "Mista! Mista!" of ragged kids begging for MRE candy...a mortar hitting too far away to be dangerous. That's how you survive war; it's an adaptation a good officer makes to bring his men home alive.
For the five days of the hearing, and even the months leading up to it, I'd been in this type of survival mode. Some days it seemed like I had never come off that patrol. I wondered if I ever would.
Part of my mind scanned the windowless courtroom, the overhead fluorescent tubes so much brighter than that April afternoon south of Baghdad. My eye glided once more across my defense table. Charlie was still hunched, ready to object if Keane pressed his luck, despite Major Winn's admonition. To my right, the Marine Corps defense counsel, Major Phil Stackhouse, listened intently to his opponent's argument, jotting an occasional note on a legal pad. His short white hair marked him as the cool water balancing Charlie's molten heat. Farther right, Captains Courtney Trombly and Brandon Bolling filled out my defense team.
But they were not my only support. My wife, Jill, and my mother, Merry, sat in the gallery just behind me. Mike Gregorio, a Marine Vietnam vet and commander of American Legion Post 10 in nearby Wilmington, was with them.
"...It is patently obvious," Keane continued, "that he intended to kill these two Iraqis..."
I looked back at Jill's and my mother's faces. A mix of anger and sadness. Jill was a classic, dark-eyed beauty, a former international model and executive, now the mother of our two small children. Merry, like Jill, was dark-haired, with deep, intense eyes and a widow's peak just like mine. She glared at Keane in contempt.
Overhead, a fluorescent tube was flickering with a dry buzz. This courtroom was part of an H-shaped redbrick block that dated back to World War II. The carpet was fraying, lowest-bidder industrial gray. The jury box and witness stand, both empty now, were the same municipal blond wood.
Keane was moving toward the core of his argument. "...He knew he would shoot them prior to taking them back to the car. The searching of this vehicle was a subterfuge.... You don't use two Iraqis to search at the same time. We all know that is wrong. We all know that is ridiculous.... This lieutenant would never make such a mistake."
Keane was trying to use a classic martial arts strategy to turn my strengths, the unique circumstances of my background, against me. This lieutenant wanted to smash his fucking skull.
Jill's face was clenched in a scowl as Keane focused his attack on me as an officer, a Marine, a person.
I understood her anguish. In fact, I felt responsible for it. Sitting on the candlelit deck of our apartment on West Forty-third Street in the summer of 2001, drinking Sauvignon Blanc and planning our October wedding, there was no way we could have foreseen the events that had led us to this courtroom.
But in retrospect, the trail was brutally direct.
The downtown N train was slow that Tuesday morning. I was going to be late for my nine o'clock meeting. I hated being late; it was a sign of poor discipline, of disrespect. As the subway crawled through the tunnel south of Penn Station, stopping, only to jerk ahead and then stop again, I gnawed on my impatience.
The meeting with our boutique publicist on Twenty-eighth Street was important to Filter Media, the consulting company I had launched a year earlier with several partners. J.R., an old friend and my chief operating officer, was to meet me there so we could plan publicity around a series of conferences that Filter would be rolling out that fall. As an Interactive Television (iTV) think tank, we helped to formulate strategies for cable companies, major brands, and their advertising agencies. After a year of hustling and scrapping, as the rest of the dot-com economy seemed to implode all around us, we had built our brand as subject matter experts and the market was coming our way.
The train's brakes squeaked, and the lights blinked once. The sweep of the minute hand on my Rolex dive watch revealed 0903. The black face and dial worked with a tuxedo, but the watch was rugged enough to meet military specs.
Not that anybody in the crowded car would mistake me for a soldier. Certainly not a Marine. My curly hair spilled down to the collar of my pewter Armani shirt. The khakis were creaseless, but the buckles on my suede Gucci loafers gleamed, an old habit. Instead of a briefcase, I carried a trendy nylon messenger's bag with a rubber rain flap. They'd started calling people that looked like me metrosexuals. That was cool. I kind of liked a game of wolf in sheep's clothing. No one saw the anchor-globe-and-eagle U.S. Marine Corps tattoo on my chest just below my "meat tag." Or the words "Semper Fidelis."
The train lurched ahead. 0905. I was halfway out the door, flipping open my cell phone as we pulled into the Twenty-eighth Street station. I took the stairs three at a time and was almost across Fifth Avenue before I noticed that the traffic was stalled in all directions. Hitting the redial button, I got another busy signal at the publicist. Couldn't these cell phone companies even keep their comm channels open? We were paying them enough.
Sirens, lots of sirens. Had to be a big fire somewhere. Manhattan. Sirens day and night. I'd been born and raised here. I jabbed the redial again. Still busy. Now I was really pissed off. I had business...this little start-up is gonna die on the vine if we don't close a deal.
But something weird was happening. A car stopped along Twenty-eighth Street had all four doors open and people were grouped around, listening to the driver's radio.
"Another plane just hit the World Trade Center." The voice sounded like Howard Stern. Even he wouldn't try a sick joke like that. What was this, some kind of H. G. Wells War of the Worlds hoax?
For the first time, I looked down Fifth Avenue and saw the smoke, gray and black in the bright September morning. We were about two miles from the Twin Towers, but even at this distance I could see the glitter of shredded insulation or maybe paper floating in the sunlight. Tinsel. From the planes? From the towers?
Down the block, J.R. and the middle-aged publicist were jog- ging toward me. Their faces were tight with fear and outrage. We met on the sidewalk, more a collision than a business encounter. The crowd flowed onto Fifth Avenue, and we stood with thousands of others, staring south at the smoke and floating debris engulfing the two towers.
I spoke. J.R. replied. The publicist managed a brittle sentence. None of our words stayed in my memory.
A woman beside me in the intersection kept asking, "What happened? Oh, my god! What's happening?" She repeated her question louder and shriller five times. Ten.
Finally I turned. "They have attacked our country. They've killed our people. We're at war."
I spoke again to J.R. and the publicist. But again the words had no impact. The phrase We're at war bounced silently in my mind. It had been almost eleven years since I had fought as a young Marine grunt in Kuwait during Desert Storm. That war had been short, but brutal. The flaming oil wells, the charred Iraqi armor with the stench of burnt flesh. Four days and it was over.
This war, I realized, would last much longer.
My cell phone rang. "Honey," Jill said, her voice tight. "You have to come home right away."
I had been walking north with the crowds for twenty minutes. "No, Jill," I said. "There's something I have to do."
"Ilario," she said, the strain breaking through now. "They just hit the Pentagon."
"Goddammit!" I was venting at the only place I could. "Who the hell..."
Before we met in 1999, Jill had never known anyone who'd served in the military. I'd had to patiently explain that the Marines were in fact a separate, elite corps of warriors. Now she would know war. The crowds streamed north, thickening as people poured out of each crosstown street onto the wider avenues. A gasp swept over the thousands of New Yorkers around me in the street. Far to the south, the first of the World Trade Center towers had collapsed. The pillar of gray-black smoke and ash was massive, a man-made volcano.
I worked through the packed streets toward the West Side and turned into a familiar doorway on Ninth Avenue. It had been over a year since I'd been to this barbershop. The Hungarian woman cutting hair this morning stood rooted before the television set, flipping back and forth from Peter Jennings to Tom Brokaw trying to make sense of this nightmare.
I sat in the chair and used my hand to show her what I wanted. "The sides right down to the skin. Leave just a little piece of hair on top. But short, really short."
She looked at me doubtfully, but took the electric clipper and did as I asked. High and tight. As the hair fell, the years peeled back. I was no longer an aspiring metrosexual master of the universe. I was once more what I had always been, a Marine.
I was leaving the barbershop when Peter Jennings announced that a United Airlines jet had crashed in Pennsylvania, undoubtedly the fourth hijacking of the morning.
Jill opened the dead bolt on the door after my first ring. She saw my hair and instantly realized what was happening. "You can't go," she gasped, then hugged me close and spoke in a softer tone. "Ilario, don't go. You don't have to."
That was obvious. I had already served my country in war. I was now thirty, and the Corps might not even want me back. But they'd spent a lot of time and money training me as a Scout Sniper after Desert Storm. If America was going to go after the people who'd hit us and I knew we would this time trained snipers would be valuable assets. And I was in better shape now, both mentally and physically, than I'd been when the DIs had shouted the teenage recruits off the bus at Parris Island in August 1989. In 2001, I regularly raced in biathlons and had run the New York and Marine Corps marathons four times, but I was experienced enough to know bullets, land mines, and shrapnel could kill even the fittest swinging dicks. It wasn't about fitness, it was about toughness. Mental toughness. In war, it is about "who has the biggest teeth."
The TV was showing endless tape loops of the North Tower collapsing. The smoke pillar was twice as thick, drifting up the Hudson.
"Jill," I reasoned, "our country's under attack. For Christ's sake! We're at war whether we want it or not."
"We've got to go downstairs. I need your help, Jill." There'd be plenty of time to talk later. Now there were practical considerations.
If terrorists poisoned the water supply, the city would die. We had to prepare. But before leaving the apartment, I called my mother at her apartment on the East Side near the U.N. "I'll come and get you."
"No," she said. "Stay with Jill. I'm okay here. Ilario, I can hear the jets, Air Force fighters. I saw one."
F-15s were circling Manhattan, ready to shoot down any hijacked airliners. This was surreal.
Back down on the street, Jill and I trotted past the firehouse toward the corner deli. I slowed, and then stopped. The cars of the Rescue 1 firefighters were parked at odd angles, some with their front wheels up on the sidewalk where the guys had abandoned them, hurrying to join their crews that morning. Three of the vehicles had the red-and-gold decal of Marine Corps veterans. I recognized the car of Ken Marino. He had a wife and two young daughters. Marines go toward the sound of the guns.
A TV in the deli blared out news updates. "...As many as ten thousand dead...."
The doors of the Rescue 1 truck bay were open. NYFD radio channels squawked unanswered inside, the noise more chaotic than any comm traffic I'd ever heard on a combat net. I realized the guys from Rescue 1 were gone, swallowed by that volcano.
Jill and I lugged as many plastic bottles of water and cans of food as we could carry back to the apartment.
While she was stacking them in the kitchen, I turned to leave.
"Ilario, where the hell are you going?" Her face was pale, frightened.
"To the storage locker," I explained. "I need my gear."
"My cammies, my ammo pouches...my war gear."
Jill frowned, not fully understanding. I was speaking a foreign language. All that equipment was from another life.
Jill had graduated from New York's High School of Music and Art and had quickly been discovered by Robert Mapplethorpe, the master of edgy black-and-white photography. After posing for him in studio work and magazine shoots, she had spent much of the next seven years modeling in Tokyo, Paris, and Milan. Then Jill had gone into furniture and home design, becoming a vice president for merchandising at an exclusive Manhattan retailer. When we'd met two years earlier at a "Spin" exercise class, she saw a recently divorced guy approaching thirty who had an ambitious plan to get rich with a new-media start-up. She'd found my background unusual and attractive: Growing up in a rough Manhattan neighborhood, a scholarship to a fancy prep school, and military service all of which gave a tough edge to my artsy appeal.
I could mingle with socialites at gallery openings, hair down to my shoulders, sipping a cosmo from a frosted glass, and appear perfectly in place. But if I described my four years of service as a Marine enlisted man, these people seemed confused. They didn't know any Marines. Going to NYU and then becoming a commodity trader at an investment bank like Goldman Sachs was the more traditional and highly coveted New York trajectory for a young guy on the move. I had done that too, but then chose to give up my seat at the last freestanding investment bank on Wall Street to jump into media. Launching my own business showed a cowboy streak, and it made for great conversations at smoky parties.
That was who I'd been when we'd met. Up until 9:05 this Tuesday morning, when I looked down Fifth Avenue at the rising smoke, that was who I was. Now the world had changed. I was different. I was a Marine again.
"The country's going to need people like me, Jill. I've got to be ready to go."
"Go where? What about your family?"
"This is for my family!"
She turned away, eyes glistening in a mix of fear, sadness, and anger.
I'd have time to explain it all later. Now I had to prep for combat.
30 April 2005
Major Keane was summarizing his arguments well. He was a skilled prosecutor. But we hoped he wasn't as skillful as he himself seemed to believe.
"...The way many people feel about this case is understandable. No American would like to believe that a Marine officer could execute two prisoners or detainees. Some people may say, 'So what if he did? They were probably bad guys anyway.'"
Keane let those harsh words resonate before continuing.
"...That is not how the Marine Corps does or should operate. We do not look the other way at law of war violations..."
Law of war. What about the law of bring-your-guys-home-so-you-don't-write-letters-to-their-grieving-moms? I kept my face blank. I understood both the law of war and war itself. I also understood that if I had ended up dead on that gravel road there would have been no trial. There would have been a lot of Marines standing around talking about that stupid fucking dead lieutenant. But no trial. If one of my men had ended up dead there would have been no trial. That was the cost of doing business. There are losses that we can accept and there are the ones that we can't. Well, that's not good enough for me.
"...Remember," Major Keane went on, "it does not matter one bit if they were or were not insurgents. Under the law of war, they are protected as detainees."
Keane was pacing again, but careful not to turn his back to Major Winn.
"The Marine Corps operates within the bounds of the law of war," he emphasized. Then he turned and stared at me. "On April 15th the accused did not. The question now is: What should be done?"
Copyright ©2006 by Ilario Pantano
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I stumbled onto this book in the bargain section at the local B&N in Asheville a few months ago and finally got around to it. I COULD NOT PUT IT DOWN! What a great story of courage against both the declared enemy in combat and the mindnumbing bureaucrats who second guess and criticize from the safety of an office far removed from the danger of real time events! I went back to purchase more to send to friends but by that time, all copies were gone. This should be required reading for all elected members of Congress and their staff and suggested reading for anyone who cares for our country. Perhaps it will wake them up and remind them we're at war with people who want to kill us simply because we are who we are. It has nothing to do with oil or the Isreali Palestine dispute. This book is a primer on how to wage the war to win.
warlord is a very gallant book by a very brave soldier who served his country in the middle east. this autiobiografy is a true account of courage under fire and after reading this very moving account I got a deeper apprieation of just how far the brave men and women will go to protect our freedoms that we hold so dear. I think 'warlord ' would make an awsome holiday gift and it would give everyone a great apprieation and respect to our vetrens for everything they do for us cause this book is writtion by someone who was there not by someone sitting behind a desk in a big city . this is a very special book.
This man makes me proud to be an American and to serve my country. He also motivates me to live up to the high standard that he has set! Great read, couldn't put it down!!! 2nd Lt. Byrne USMC
THIS BOOK IS OUTSTANDING. IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO PUT DOWN ONCE YOU START READING IT.ILARIO PANTANO IS AN AMERICAN HERO- BRAVE ENOUGH TO GO FIGHT THE ENEMIES THAT WOULD DESTROY US. I AM PROUD TO SAY I KNOW HIM PERSONALLY AND HE IS A WONDERFUL PERSON WHO MAKES YOU PROUD TO BE AN AMERICAN. HE IS A REAL AMERICAN HERO. BUY THIS BOOK- YOU WILL BE GLAD YOU DID!!
Pantano delivers a compelling, vivid, and brutally honest first-hand account of the events surrounding his case and of every stage in his life leading up to that point resulting in the character and values he exemplified as an outstanding Marine and a model for a whole generation of Americans in the post-9/11 world. One may not agree with the war or the politics surrounding the conflict but all should note that once the decision for action has been made, and we as a nation let our warrior class 'out of the bottle' so-to-speak, they must be fully supported, in every capacity, and should not be handicapped in any way while performing the mission of protecting the citizens of this nation and our critical interests. Anyone wishing to have an informed opinion about the war in Iraq or any conflict for that matter needs to possess a fundamental understanding of the men and women who fight those wars - WARLORD provides this essential insight in a well-written, moving and powerful prose. A mandatory addition to anyone's summer reading list.
Warlord is a solid memoir of a Marine in combat. The best account to come out in many years, and one that I will not soon forget. Pantano's true story is as honest as a first hand account of a grunt can be. The excellent manner in which Pantano gives you the essential details, that still paint a vivid picture keep the reader glued to this book. The style of the story is unique, combining the court room drama and the circumstances that put him there. Written in this manner the book is tight and fast paced. The internal struggle of an intelligent man going in combat is portrayed perfectly here. Pantano shows the constant inner struggle of a leader doing what is right and what he needs to do to get all his men home alive, the entire time doing that under frustrating rules of engagement. At times this would be hysterical if it were not true. This hero's story is one that should be known to every American. He sacrificed everything he thought dear to him, and more than he could have possibly imagined. His story is both touching and motivating. This story should be required reading for every man considering becoming a United States Marine, and this will end up on the 'Commandant's Reading List.'
Warlord is like a turbo-charged and heavily armed Humvee ¿ it covers a tremendous amount of treacherous ground at a surprisingly fast pace. Pantano eschews the staid chronological storytelling typically found in an autobiographical work in favor of a dynamic approach that whipsaws the reader through time and place with genuine dramatic impact. He juxtaposes scenes from his murder trial with memories of his childhood in Hells Kitchen, the ferocity of the front lines in the Middle East with the tranquility of home life, and his grudging respect for the ingenuity of the enemy with his determination to protect the teenage Marines under his command. Part of what makes the book so compelling is the candor with which Pantano reveals the inner workings of his mind throughout the circumstances in which he finds himself, or more precisely, places himself. Though confident in his abilities as a warrior (whether in fatigues or a business suit), he continually searches for the meaning behind the mission (whether in a Fallujah alley or on Wall Street). It¿s fascinating to read how he grappled with a range of emotions: a thirst for vengeance in the wake of 9/11 tempered with a genuine desire to help the Iraqi citizens complete commitment to military victory coupled with a growing sense that the military leadership was (and is) setting up the troops for failure. Most compelling, of course, is the story itself, which might be described as Jarhead meets A Few Good Men, except all of it is non-fiction. A gung-ho teenager with an idealized sense of warrior chivalry enlists in the Marines and suddenly finds himself in a war he never expected that quickly teaches him what ¿fair¿ means in ¿warfare.¿ A decade later, the now 30-something former Marine re-enlists knowing full well that he is going to war, but this time knows precisely what that really means. Except that he doesn¿t, because he doesn¿t realize that a year or so later, he will be put on trial for killing the enemy. Like a Humvee, Warlord is, at times, a little rough around the edges and the ride can be a bit bumpy stylistically. But rather than detract from the experience, the occasional flaw serves as a reminder that all of this really happened, which had me shaking my head in wonder numerous times. I suspect that people from across the ideological spectrum will find reasons to love and hate various themes repeated in this book. But nobody who reads it will forget it.
This is a book that should be read by everyone regardless of political party affiliation or attitude about the war. It is a story of a man's fight for survival in the sand of a foreign land and a courtroom in his own country. His story is heart warming and heart wrenching. It is about his love of family, his love of his men, and his love of his country. There is something for everyone. It is a life story, a love story, a war story, and a courtroom story. It is not written as a daily account of war from a daily log. It is written from the heart of a man. There are great sacrifices being made in the war, but only by a few. Some, more than others. The reader is challenged to think, to soul search, and to question. It is hard to read about the war but if you are unfamiliar with the aspects of military life, it is eye opening. It is a first hand account, uncensored and unfiltered.