The pretrial hearing of 2nd Lt. Ilario Pantano opened yesterday with testimony from two government witnesses and a continued dispute over the investigating officer chosen by the Marine Corps to recommend whether the charges of premediated murder of two Iraqis should proceed to a court-martial.
Pantano, a platoon leader in the volatile Sunni Triangle last spring, insists he acted in self-defense against suspected insurgents after they attempted to drive away from a house where weapons were found. The Marine Corps -- which presented two fellow officers at the Camp Lejeune, N.C., hearing -- contends Pantano commited numerous violations of the Uniform Military Code and executed the Iraqis to send a message to the enemy.
Pantano's civilian attorney, Charles Gittins, told WorldNetDaily he evaluated the opening session as "a net-zero day."
"It didn't go to prove anything other than [the Sunni Triangle] was a dangerous place," he said.
Marine Corps spokesman Maj. Matt Morgan did not return WND's call requesting comment.
The prosecution has said it plans over the next few days to offer more than 10 witnesses to prove Pantano disobeyed standard operating procedures.
Gittins expects the hearing to continue through Friday. After completion, investigating officer Maj. Mark Winn will have seven days to make a recommendation to Maj. Gen. Richard Huck, commander of the 2nd Marine Division.
Huck can decide Pantano's fate regardless of the recommendation, which could be to dismiss the charges, proceed to a court-martial or handle it in some other way.