Marines clear officer who shot Iraqis Thu May 26, 2005 10:06 AM ET Printer Friendly | Email Article | Reprints | RSS MIAMI (Reuters) - The U.S. Marine Corps said on Thursday it had dropped all charges against a Marine lieutenant accused of murdering two Iraqis during a vehicle search near a weapons cache in Iraq last year. The Marine Corps said in a statement from Camp Lejeune in North Carolina that charges of premeditated murder were dismissed against 2nd Lt. Ilario Pantano for his involvement in the shooting deaths of two Iraqi men on April 15, 2004, during combat operations in Iraq. Maj. Gen. Richard Huck, the commanding general of the 2nd Marine Division, had completed an investigation that included a review of the autopsies of the Iraqis shot by Pantano, the statement said. "After careful consideration of the Article 32 Investigative Report and of the autopsies, Maj. Gen. Huck has decided to dismiss all charges," the statement said. "While the Article 32 Investigation has been lengthy, the best interests of 2nd Lt. Pantano and the government have been served by this process." Pantano was charged with the crime Feb. 1. The charges would have carried the death penalty. Pantano was the commander of a Marine platoon sent to search a suspected insurgent hide-out south of Baghdad. The Marines found weapons, ammunition and bomb-making material in the building, and saw two men fleeing in a sport utility vehicle, according to his civilian attorney, Charles Gittens. The Marines shot out the vehicle's tires, took the two men into custody and ordered them to rip out the seats and the interior of the vehicle during a search for booby traps and secret compartments, Gittens told Reuters in February. One of the men turned suddenly toward Pantano "as if to attack," and the pair kept moving when Pantano ordered them to stop, Gittens said. Pantano feared the men may have been trying to detonate explosives remotely and shot them, he added. A former commodities trader, Pantano is from New York City and also fought during the first Gulf War. Statistics on civilian deaths in cross fire or at checkpoints in Iraq are scarce. Last month, a humanitarian aid worker, Marla Ruzicka, reported that 29 civilians were killed during fighting between U.S. forces and insurgents in Baghdad alone between Feb. 28 and April 5. Ruzicka herself was killed on April 16 when her car was caught in an insurgent attack. I have yet to figure out the connection between the "statistics on civilian deaths" and the charges being dropped are, but I can guess at the point they are trying to make.