updated 5/13/2005 8:04:17 PM ET 2005-05-14T00:04:17

The Marine Corps should drop murder charges against a lieutenant who fatally shot two Iraqi detainees during a search for a terrorist hideout, an investigating officer recommended in an opinion made public Friday.

2nd Lt. Ilario Pantano, a Wall Street trader who rejoined the Marines after the Sept. 11 attacks, did make “serious errors in tactical judgment,” Lt. Col. Mark Winn wrote in an opinion dated Thursday.

But he said key witnesses and evidence failed to back up the accusation that Pantano shot the detainees last year while they were kneeling with their backs to him.

The report was posted on a Web site maintained by Pantano’s mother. The officer is currently stationed at Camp Lejeune, where his Article 32 hearing concluded April 30.

Winn recommended withdrawing most charges against Pantano, and said one charge — that he desecrated the bodies by reloading his weapon and repeatedly shooting them — should be referred for nonjudicial punishment.

Making an example
Prosecutors alleged Pantano intended to make an example of the two detainees by shooting them 60 times and hanging a sign over their bodies — “No better friend, no worse enemy,” a Marine slogan.

Military authorities may choose to accept Winn’s recommendation, give some form of administrative punishment or go ahead with a court-martial.

Prosecutors allege Pantano, 33, killed the suspected insurgents in April 2004 because he believed they were launching mortars at his troops. Pantano never denied shooting the men, but said he acted in self-defense after the men disobeyed his instructions and made a menacing move toward him.

A field-level investigation cleared Pantano of wrongdoing, and he remained on duty in Iraq. After his unit’s return to Camp Lejeune, a new probe was started.

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