This is a partial transcript from "Hannity & Colmes," June 12, 2006, that has been edited for clarity.
SEAN HANNITY, CO-HOST: The Marines accused of breaking the rules of engagement at Haditha are not the first U.S. servicemen who have been accused of wrongdoing in Iraq. In April 2005 on a raid in the Sunni triangle, Marine Lieutenant Ilario Pantano shot and killed two Iraqi insurgents. And months later, another Marine disputed his claim that he had acted in self-defense and Pantano was relieved of his command and charged with premeditated murder. It took until May of 2005 for his name to be cleared.
Lieutenant Pantano has now written about his experiences in his brand-new book "Warlord: No Better Friend, No Worse Enemy." He's joining us now in a cable news exclusive tonight.
Ilario Pantano, good to see you, my friend. You're a great American. Thanks for being with us.
ILARIO PANTANO, AUTHOR, 'WARLORD': Thank you. You two are both great Americans. In fact, I'm grateful for the opportunity to be here again. You were such champions of my case a year ago, when my mother was advocating that, you know, that I be given a second look before there was a rush to judgment.
HANNITY: Well, we are seeing the very same thing happening again. What's amazing, I want to set up your story this way. You were working for Goldman Sachs, finishing your degree. You're living in New York. You're living a good life. You used to be a Marine. You fought in the first Gulf War, and you see 9/11 happen and you want to go back.
PANTANO: I'm a native New Yorker. I had worked at Goldman Sachs. In fact, I was actually even working in television production at the time. And 9/11 was a turning point event for me, like it was for most Americans, and I was compelled to act, I think as many were. And in that way, I think my story is really an American story. America felt that we had been attacked and we were compelled to do something. My choice was to become a Marine officer.
HANNITY: One of the things that you do so magnificently in this book, you sort of interweave. You go to your trial at Camp Lejeune and the direct testimony that is given by four people for you, describing what it's like to be day, back when this happened.
PANTANO: Well, thank you for saying that. You know, the intent in writing it in this way was to really bring people into the reality of the courtroom and give them this testimony. Dozens of witnesses, sworn and under oath, if they were making this stuff up, you know, they'd be charged, but it's almost too surreal to even make up, the day-to-day life in Iraq.
HANNITY: And you go from the trial, you go back to your personal accounts of war. You know what's amazing, is it's very easy, I guess, for people to judge, like in the case of Haditha, a Marine was split in two. There’s gunfire reports. These guys have to decide. Whatever move they make may result in the death of a fellow soldier or in their own death. You found yourself in a similar set of circumstances when these two guys were coming at you. Explain that.
PANTANO: I was in a situation almost two years ago now when I was in Iraq leading a platoon. I was forced to kill two men that made a threatening move to me. This was in the height of really the insurgent explosion in the spring of 2004, after the contractors were hanging from the bridge. And I really wasn't left with a lot of options.
At that time, we had to show the Iraqi people, we were no better friend and then, now, in fact, it was our turn to be no worse enemy. As the situation developed, we went on to fight in Fallujah and continue with peacekeeping operations, taking care of children, rebuilding schools. And a sergeant made an allegation that I had done something improper. That ultimately trigged an investigation, and that's why I'm sitting here very proudly.
ALAN COLMES, CO-HOST: Lieutenant, why did two of the people you were with make those allegations against you? Daniel Coburn, the radio operator, who was the one who actually, I guess, originally told about what happened. And then there was "Doc" Gobles, who said, if he were in your shoes, he would not have reacted that way. Why did these men say those things and react the way they did?
PANTANO: Well, in fact, really Doc Gobles — and, Alan, thank you — through the course of the book, we let actually the sergeant and the corpsman tell their stories on the witness stand, and you can kind of understand their motivations. And, really, in fact, the corpsman substantiates me.
There was a sergeant that was disgruntled because I had fired him. And, ultimately, his interpretation of what happened that day is really asymptomatic of America rushing to judgment. He didn't see what had happened in that moment in time, and he made a snap decision, based on his own lack of knowledge, and that ultimately is what we're seeing happening in America right now.
COLMES: The subtitle of your book, "No Better Friend, No Worse Enemy," you wrote a sign and left this on the people you killed and...
PANTANO: I didn't leave it on the people. It was on the vehicle...
COLMES: On the vehicle, excuse me. And I guess that became a bone of contention in court, where didn't the court say, "It's really up to your commanding general to decide how to deal with that particular issue"?
PANTANO: Well, in fact — and, you know, and as I speak to in the book, ultimately what happens is all the charges that were put forth against me — murder, destruction of property, et cetera — were all brought before an investigating officer.
And that investigating officer made a very detailed, 16-page review after this five-day hearing, where all of the evidence was put forward. And the media — there were 50 different journalistic organizations represented there on a day-to-day basis. Everyone had full access and full disclosure to the facts. And the interpretation at that time was that I was innocent of all of the things that I had been charged and, in fact, that recommendation was then passed onto my commanding general, who likewise made the same recommendation.
COLMES: Why, then, can you not continue to serve in the military?
PANTANO: Well, that was actually a personal decision, Alan. After I was exonerated, I was given the opportunity to take command of a unit that would be going to Iraq shortly thereafter. And in the epilogue of the book, I've actually included my resignation letter, because that was a very painful, seminal event for me.
COLMES: Why did you resign?
PANTANO: Well, really, there were a couple of factors. And the first, really, was my family, and the fact that, over the course of this hearing, threats had developed against my life and my family's life. And, again, part of that was Al-Jazeera representing my case inaccurately, for example, with claims or photographs that were not related to my case, but certainly were insightful. So we began receiving threats from Pakistan, amongst other places. So how could I, in good conscience, go and fight for my country overseas when my family was threatened?
HANNITY: When we come back, we're going to ask you what you think of John Murtha's comments about Haditha and what can we learn from your experience of being, you know, accused of something and then being found innocent?
HANNITY: And we'll compare it to what is being accused about Haditha.
COLMES: Welcome back to "Hannity & Colmes." We now continue with our exclusive interview with author of "Warlord: No Better Friend, No Worse Enemy," Ilario Pantano.
I know the issue of Haditha comes up in the context of what you did, but aren't these really two different kinds of things? You had two people in your sights who you were worried were going to immediately react in a way that could have killed you. In Haditha, the accusation is of people actually going into civilian homes and proactively committing atrocities.
PANTANO: Alan, that's the accusation right now, but until we have the full and thorough investigation, we don't know how to separate accusation from mythology. And we need to really let the process bear its course. I'm living proof that the Marine Corps does the right thing when nobody's looking. My investigation was launched internally. There was no journalists. There was no Arab street calling for it. It was the Marine Corps.
COLMES: But here, there was a cover-up. We know there was a cover-up in Haditha.
PANTANO: I don't know how to qualify "cover-up." I'm not sure what you mean by that. I think that — you know, and I can't speak to what the reporting is. I'm very comfortable to let the investigation take its course, and I'm confident that it will bear out.
COLMES: You know, a lot of people — people who want to blame Jack Murtha, because they don't like him politically, perhaps, but it's not Jack Murtha just talking about this. It's the new Iraqi prime minister who says the military sometimes doesn't respect the Iraqi people, that it's a regular occurrence and a horrible crime.
PANTANO: I actually — I think that's actually very positive, that the new Iraqi prime minister is actually starting to play politics in Iraq, that the fact that he would have to take a position against American forces doesn't strike me of any reality of what we've done. It's a position he needs to feed his base.
COLMES: You also have Republican John Kline, a Minnesota Republican, who has basically said this was direct fire by Marines. Now, there has to be an investigation, but the fact of the matter is that there are not just Jack Murtha saying this.
PANTANO: Direct fire by Marines is very different than assertion of cold-blooded murder, which, in essence, is what Jack Murtha made. So, I mean, there's a very different set of equations here.
HANNITY: Lieutenant, we don't know anything about Haditha.
PANTANO: That's exactly right.
HANNITY: And what we do — for the first time, we've heard from a defense attorney today, and this is what we ought to be learning from your case. They made accusations about you, and you had an opportunity to present your exculpatory evidence, pictures, forensics, and other things, and you were able to prove your innocence here.
The same thing, it's the same rush to judgment, John Murtha, that our Marines are killing innocent civilians in cold blood. John Kerry, his statement that our troops are terrorizing women and children in the dark of night.
PANTANO: It saddens me when it seems that there's some kind of political objective is met by diminishing our national security. And the self-flagellation, I don't think serves anyone, except our enemy. I think what the proper course here is to let the investigation run its course.
HANNITY: Do you see similarities, though, this rush to judgment by people for political reasons, like John Murtha and John Kerry?
PANTANO: Sadly no. Fortunately, I find this situation much more onerous. In my situation, the rush to judgment kind of came from the media, but there wasn't a political capitalization the way there is now, so I almost feel like it's become worse.
HANNITY: You see a rush to judgment and you think this case is worst, where it's with politicians?
PANTANO: I think, yes, absolutely. And I think that that's a function of the elections.
HANNITY: Well, it's easy to say, I mean, because the elections that are coming up. What does it do — I mean, here you're putting your life on the line. You decide to put your life on hold. You have two young children, or a child and a pregnant wife, and you leave her home, and you go to fight for your country, and you're not given the benefit of the doubt.
PANTANO: I think that this is something that you've said before, and I' like to echo it, which is, who deserves the benefit of the doubt more than those people that have volunteered and pledged their life to give somebody else freedom and an opportunity? I can't think of anybody who's more deserving, at the very least of the benefit of the doubt.
HANNITY: Than our troops. What does it mean for our troops, in terms of when they see cases like yours, and they see the comments of Kerry and Murtha, without an investigation complete, does that cause them to hesitate when they need to decide to do something in their best interests?
PANTANO: Not only does it cause hesitation — and we've already seen that hesitation actually allowed Zarqawi to live even longer than he should have. There have been instances when he could have been shot that he wasn't. But it also means that Marines, and sailors, and soldiers end up dead, and that is a very unfortunate byproduct of this kind of political football.
HANNITY: Absolutely. That's a great point.
COLMES: Lieutenant, thank you for being with us. Appreciate it. Good luck with the book.
PANTANO: Thank you.
HANNITY: Thank you, my friend.
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