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May I Please Fire
15 April 2007
May I Please Fire Before They Kill Me, Sir?
How much force can a squad of Marines generate in self-defense before it is considered “excessive”?
That question is now out of the hands of Marine officers and noncoms in the field. The question will be decided in courts-martial.
This is absolutely unprecedented. Applying the concept of “excessive force” to men under fire is absurd enough. But turning “excessive force” into murder charges is the beginning of the end of our war against Islamofascism.
Seeing the President of the United States labeled a liar and a war criminal by the media for seven years ought to give the DoD a clue. The media cannot be placated. They openly root for America’s disgrace and defeat. Nonetheless, the DoD is succumbing to media pressure even though our media is entirely in sympathy with the enemy.
Allowing the media to dictate policy during wartime is insane. Here’s just one example of why. The media made something out of nothing in the Abu Ghraib Prison fiasco. Nonetheless, due to the outcry, the DoD changed its policy about detentions. For a captured prisoner to be considered a combatant, it became necessary to produce two signed affidavits from coalition or Iraqi forces attesting to that fact. No affidavits, no detention. The result was that half of the 2,500 muj captured during the battle of Fallujah were released within seventy-two hours. The most infamous released detainee was Safaa Mohammed Ali. Nearly a year, later he detonated a suicide vest and murdered 57 people attending a wedding party in Amman, Jordan.
Fortunately, no military court has (so far) convicted a Marine on the basis of “excessive force”.
The first test was the Lieutenant Ilario Pantano case in April 2005. The defense played a television interview, with Stone Phillips of NBC’s Dateline. This is an excerpt of what was played for in the investigating officer in Lieutenant Pantano’s Article 32 hearing.
PANTANO: I give them [two suspected insurgents] a command in Arabic to stop. They continue [to move] and then there was this moment of quiet. I felt, I could feel like the oxygen getting sucked out of my lungs. I could feel that this thing was happening. There was this beat and they both pivoted to me at the same time, moving towards me at the same time and, in that moment, of them, of them disobeying my command to stop and pivoting to me at the same time, I shot them.
Pantano's concern was that they might have grabbed a hidden weapon or were lunging for his. From just ten feet away, he emptied one magazine from his M-16 rifle, then reloaded and emptied a second, firing a total of fifty to sixty shots.
PANTANO: I didn't wait to see if there was a grenade. I didn't wait to see if there was a knife. And, unfortunately, there are a lot of dead soldiers and Marines who have waited, too long. And my men weren't going to be those dead soldiers or Marines and neither was I.
PHILLIPS: And the idea of maybe firing a warning shot?
PANTANO: There wasn't time for warning shots. There was time for action and I had to act. It becomes very personal. It stops being about war and moving blue arrows and little pieces and big pieces and hold this bridge and take this ground. These guys tried to kill me. That's what I'm feeling and the language that's going through my head at that point was no better friend, and no worse enemy.
But, even if Pantano did act in self-defense, the number of bullets he fired and his reason for doing so raised serious questions.
PHILLIPS: You emptied a magazine. And emptied a second magazine.
PANTANO: The speed it took me to wipe the sweat off my brow is how quickly you fire and reload a magazine. I shot them until they stopped moving.
PHILLIPS: Fifty rounds, sixty rounds to stop them?
PANTANO: Stone, unfortunately, combat is a pretty ugly business. What's the right number of rounds to save your life? I would say its until there is no more threat.
At the end of the hearing, the investigation officer, Lieutenant Colonel Mark Winn submitted a 16-page report to the Second Marine Division commander, Major General Richard Huck, recommending that all charges be withdrawn. Major General Huck concurred and Lieutenant Pantano was exonerated.
The Haditha case, and now the Afghan Highway case, is on the horizon. Sometime soon (maybe) the government will actually begin the Article 32 process. And, once again, our government will attempt to win a murder conviction based on an argument of “excessive force”.
It should be a requirement that the investigating officer, and jury if any of these cases go to court martial, have served in Fallujah. It would put the concept of “excessive force” in its proper context.
Combat historian Patrick O’Donnell was there. Here is his description of what he saw during a house clearing. Before the Marines entered, the house was hit with a satchel charge, a bag filled with 20 pounds of explosives, that nearly tore the building in half.
The [Marines] failed to take into account the effect of muj drugs. Hearing footsteps coming from the shattered house, they assumed other members of the platoon had entered the building. Suddenly, two dusty, black-clad jihadis, hyped up on adrenaline, emerged from the rubble to engage the Marines. The men were bleeding from the eyeballs, but they managed to get a few rounds off before Hackett killed both of them with his M4, a shortened version of the M16.
Another muj wearing an explosive vest was attempting to escape through a mouse hole when he ran into Bryan and Vaquerano. "His face was filled with surprise when he saw us. I think he knew he was about to die," recalled Vaquerano.
The jihadist lunged at Vaquerano.
"Shoot him!" yelled Bryan to Vaquerano.
Vaquerano remained motionless. Bryan shot the man twice in the stomach.
Bryan shot him five more times.
The drug-crazed muj kept on coming. "As he reached up with his bloody arm and tried to choke us, Bryan put a ten-round burst into him," recalled Vaquerano.
Even after putting seventeen rounds into the muj's body, Bryan still had to shoot him in the head to prevent him from detonating his vest. As the muj's eyes rolled back and he finally expired, Bryan crouched down and put out his middle finger. "F*ck you!"
Stunned, Gunny Hackett turned to Bryan and Rosalez. "How the hell did they survive?"
As Stokes tried to take the [muj fighters] prisoner, one of the terrorists made a desperate move. According to Stokes, "The other guy stood up and grabbed the muzzle of my weapon. I threw him against the wall. He landed next to the RPG and tried to grab it. I shot him point blank in the face." Grantham and Stokes walked out of the building, and Sojda and Hanks walked in.
Despite his horrible face wound, the fighter shot by Grantham was only playing dead. "Hey, this guy is alive!" Hanks shouted as the insurgent went for an AK lying across his stomach.
Sojda quickly took action. "I could see him breathing. Grantham had put a bullet in his head, his brains were out on the floor. As he went for the AK, I grabbed his bayonet and put it right in the center of his chest and twisted it. A normal person would have died with a bullet hole in their head and multiple stab wounds, but he wouldn't die. I figured he was meant to live, so I pulled the weapons away from him and left."
Drugs had given him superhuman ability to absorb punishment. Nearly all of the mujahideen 1st Platoon would encounter during the battle were high on a cocktail of drugs.
Do the JAG-happy boys in the DoD even know the nature of the enemy we're facing?
It is practically inconceivable for a Marine, or any soldier, to be convicted of murder based on the “excessive force” argument. But with anti-war political opportunists controlling military appropriation committees, perhaps the inconceivable will happen. With cases on the horizon, we’re all about to find out.