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Wednesday
Oct272010

Former U.S. Marine Running Race Against Backdrop of Iraq Controversy

Photo Courtesy - Bill Clark/Roll Call via Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Ilario Pantano sounds like the average Republican candidate vying for Congress.

In a polite, yet passionate tone, the self-described born-again Christian argues for repealing the health care bill and instilling more free market reforms in the United States.

But the 38-year-old Marine veteran's history sets him apart from his fellow candidates.

Just five years ago, Pantano was facing charges of premeditated murder, punishable by death. While serving in Iraq in 2004, then-2nd Lt. Pantano killed two Iraqis after stopping them for a search. He then placed a sign on their car's dashboard that read, "No better friend, no worse enemy."

Pantano claimed he acted in self-defense. His counterpart who reported the case to superiors said Pantano was agitated and wanted to teach the insurgents a lesson.

Pantano's battalion was officially on a peacekeeping mission.

Eventually, the charges were dropped but not before an admonishing by the investigating officer, who called Pantano's actions "morally and ethically wrong" and a "disgrace of the armed forces."

Five years later, the New York trader-turned-military man-turned deputy sheriff is running for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives and could soon be a new addition to the Republican lineup in Congress. Nationally, Democrats are attempting to use Pantano's record to question his legitimacy for Congress.

The outspoken critic of the Obama administration calls the controversy a non-issue.

"I don't need to defend my record. I was completely exonerated. I was given another command. I made the decision to resign [from the military] out of my own will, purely because I was concerned about the safety of my men and ultimately the safety of my family back at home," Pantano, who just Tuesday received a glowing endorsement from Sarah Palin, told ABC News.

"Anybody is entitled to their opinion," Pantano said of the officer's scathing report. "The case really is closed. I'm running for Congress. I'm not running to a run a platoon in Iraq in 2004."

Pantano, author of Warlord: No Better Friend, No Worse Enemy, is one of 27 veterans running for Congress this election season. He represents a new breed of Iraq war alumni who will soon replace World War II combat veterans, only a handful of which now walk the halls of Congress.

But unlike their predecessors, many of these candidates have been mired in national scandals.

Allen West, a Republican candidate for Congress in Florida and a retired Army lieutenant colonel, faced allegations of improper detainee abuse in Iraq and was fined after a military hearing in 2003.

The 49-year-old Tea Party-backed candidate is currently leading in the polls.

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