The atmosphere around the 2010 midterm elections has been as charged with the potential for violence as any since the Vietnam era, at least. The poisoning of the political environment began last summer when cable news ran video of tea baggers throwing tantrums over the president’s birth certificate and similar issues at congressional town hall meetings. A little later, gun nuts made a show of loitering around presidential event venues carrying loaded rifles and handguns.
During the primaries, Nevada tea bagger U.S. Senate candidate Sharron Angle treasonously threatened “Second Amendment remedies” — in other words, armed insurrection against the United States — if the elections don’t go her way. Just last week, Rev. Stephen Broden, a tea bagger candidate for Congress in Texas’ 30th District proclaimed that armed revolution against the U.S. government was “not off the table,” if tea baggers fail to win control of Congress next Tuesday.
In just the past two weeks, there have been two incidents of tea bagger thugs threatening and even assaulting liberals at rallies and one instance of hired private security goons “arresting” a reporter for demanding answers from a Senate candidate about his record.
Now it appears that voters in two House districts are prepared to elect tea bagger candidates who are war criminals — literally.
In Florida’s 22nd District, Democratic Rep. Ron Klein is in a tight rematch with Allen West, who was removed from command as a lieutenant colonel and forced to retire by the Army after he pleaded guilty to assaulting a prisoner in Iraq. West appears to have an edge over Klein.
But West’s war crimes, as atrocious as they are, pale in comparison with the GOP-T opponent of Democrat Rep. Mike McIntyre in North Carolina’s 7th District. Ilario Pantano, an ex-Marine, murdered two unarmed Iraqis in 2004:
This much we know: The day that Marine Lieutenant Ilario Pantano killed the two men was like any other day in Iraq. It was [April 15, 2004], though no one could initially recall the date. The afternoon was drawing to a close. Soon, it would be dark. Already, 85 Americans had been killed that month, which would become the second deadliest of the war. To Pantano’s restless mind, all this had one meaning. “All of the conditions,” he thought, “are right for an ambush.”
At the scene, Pantano divided his platoon of 40 Marines. He sent a dozen to raid the house. The remainder dispersed, guarding his flanks. As Marines approached the target, a white sedan backed out and drove away. Pantano radioed that he’d take down the car. Pantano, 32, had with him a Navy medic, George Gobles, 21, whom everyone called Doc, and his new radio operator, Sergeant Daniel Coburn, 27.
Pantano yelled for the car to stop. When it didn’t, two warning shots were fired. The occupants, a man in his thirties or forties and another about 18, both wearing “man dresses,” as the Marines called them, finally stopped and raised their hands. They were unarmed.
Pantano received word from the Marines who’d taken the house. They’d found a modest cache of arms and also some significant items, including stakes used to aim mortars.
Pantano, who earlier had the Iraqis put in plastic handcuffs, now had Doc Gobles cut the cuffs off, which he did with his trauma shears. Then Gobles marched the two prisoners to their vehicle, placed one in the open door of the front seat, the other in the open door of the rear seat. Pantano motioned to the prisoners to search the car. He ordered Gobles to post security at the front of the car; Sergeant Coburn at the rear. Both men turned their backs on Pantano and the Iraqis.
A short time later, the shots started. Gobles and Coburn spun around. Pantano, ten feet from the Iraqis, emptied his M-16’s magazine, reloaded, emptied another. Later, Coburn recalled wondering “when the lieutenant was going to stop, because it was obvious that they were dead.” Photos, souvenirs taken by a Marine, would show one Iraqi nearly embracing the backseat of the car. The other lolled on his side, his head on the floorboard.
Coburn seemed distraught. He grabbed Gobles. “What the hell just happened?”
“Don’t worry,” Gobles said to settle him. “The blood is not on your hands.”
Over the corpses, he left a placard inscribed with the marine motto: “No better friend, No worse enemy.”
Six years later Pantano is on the verge of a stunning electoral victory that could send him to the US Congress in Washington. He is standing as Republican candidate in North Carolina’s 7th congressional district, which was last represented by his party in 1871.
With the help of the right-wing Tea Party movement, and with the benefit of his image as a war hero acquired from what happened on that fateful day in 2004, he has raised almost $1m (£630,000) in donations and is now level-pegging with his Democratic opponent, Mike McIntyre…
A few months after he killed the two unarmed Iraqis, a member of his unit reported him to senior officers and he was charged with premeditated murder. At a pre-trial military hearing, prosecution witnesses testified that the detainees, Hamaady Kareem and Tahah Hanjil, were unthreatening and that their bodies were found in a kneeling position having apparently been shot in the back.
The defence countered that weapons had been found in the house from where the Iraqis were fleeing. The men had turned on Pantano unexpectedly as he was guarding them. He shouted “Stop!” but they didn’t respond and he opened fire in self-defence.
Defence lawyers highlighted inconsistencies in the accounts of the prosecution witnesses and portrayed the main witness, who had been demoted by Pantano, as a soldier with an axe to grind. Forensic evidence was said to conflict with the prosecution case.
In the event, all charges against Pantano were dropped on grounds of insufficient evidence. But the officer presiding over the hearing recommended that Pantano be given non-judicial punishment for having displayed “extremely poor judgment”, adding that by desecrating the Iraqi’s bodies with his placard he had brought disgrace to the armed forces.
The 7th District, which is in southeastern North Carolina and includes Wilmington at the coast as well as inland areas around Lumberton and the eastern exurbs of Fayetteville, is a popular place to retire for the military. Real Clear Politics lists the race as a toss up.