Claiming the government is withholding key evidence and witnesses, the U.S. Marine charged with murdering two Iraqis waived his right to a pretrial hearing yesterday and demanded a speedy court-martial.

Lt. Ilario Pantano addressing officers at basic training school in 2003.

But a Marine Corps spokesman told WorldNetDaily this morning that Lt. Ilario Pantano – whose case has drawn outrage from many veterans and pro-military supporters – still is scheduled to face the pretrial, or Article 32, hearing April 25 at Camp Lejeune, N.C.

Spokesman Maj. Matt Morgan said the Marine Corps has received Pantano’s request, but the hearing “will continue as planned until we announce otherwise.”

Morgan, who noted the hearing date officially was set yesterday, said he could not respond to Pantano’s claim the prosecution is not cooperating.

“The defense counsel has been putting out a lot of accusations since the beginning,” he said. ” … The best place to discuss these details is in the court room.”

As WorldNetDaily reported, Pantano’s quick-reaction platoon operating in the Sunni Triangle town of Mahmudiyah detained the two Iraqis April 15, 2004, after securing a terrorist hideaway where the Marines found a weapons cache. Pantano contends the Iraqis disobeyed his order in Arabic to stop, prompting him to open fire.

Pantano waived his right to a hearing “in order to get a Military Judge to compel the prosecution to produce witnesses and evidence in his case,” said his mother, Merry Pantano, in a statement given to WND.

Merry Pantano, a New York literary agent who has established an advocacy website for her son and others in similar situations, said the departure to Iraq in June of her son’s former unit – 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment – adds to the urgency, because many of the requested witnesses probably would be unavailable.

“My son, our family, and millions of concerned citizens, Marines and soldiers were assured that the Article 32 pretrial hearing would bring everything out in the wash, and we have been patient with a process that has been grueling for my son’s family,” Merry Pantano said. “The problem is that if the government is the machine and my son is the laundry, they are not adding any water.”

The formal waiver, filed with the Piedmont Judicial Circuit of the Navy-Marine Corps Trial Judiciary by defense counsel, Marine Maj. Phillip E. Stackhouse, says:

“I hereby knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily waive my right to an investigation of the charges and specifications in accordance with Article 32, UCMJ. I base this waiver on the fact that the Government has indicated the Staff Judge Advocate and the Second Marine Division has already determined that no witnesses from farther than 100 miles will be produced at the hearing, regardless of relevance of the testimony; the fact that we have requested discovery (evidence) that has not been produced and is not likely to be produced by the Government absent a court order; and, my desire that I receive a speedy trial in accordance with R.C.M. 707 and the 6th Amendment of the United States Constitution.”

Underscoring the necessity of a speedy trial, Merry Pantano said her son was denied requests for a Military Judge to act as an investigating officer, for the Rules of Engagement operating at the time and for intelligence reports that would illustrate the extremely volatile atmosphere in the “Triangle of Death.”

A Military Judge has been employed in many important cases she said, because “only someone with real legal experience understands the laws of evidence and can compel the prosecution to provide the evidence they are supposed to provide.”

She wondered how the government can “fail to provide the very rules he is accused of violating?”

Regarding denial of intelligence reports, she said, “Are we to believe that the thousands of men that were wounded and killed in that bloody month happened in a vacuum? Somewhere else maybe? Easy to believe in an air-conditioned office. Hard to swallow when it’s happening all around you and the smell of burning flesh is filling your nostrils.”

Merry Pantano said she understood the possible misperceptions the demand for a speedy trial could generate, but emphasized that with less than two weeks before the scheduled pretrial hearing, “half the facts are still missing.”

“If all relevant facts and all relevant witnesses are not going to be considered during this hearing how can it possibly be fair?”

She said, almost one year after the investigation began, agents of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service “are only now conducting dozens of interviews of the men with whom he served.”

“Had they done these interviews before, no doubt they never would have pressed charges to begin with, but now they are not even turning over their results until months after the interviews,” she said.

Merry Pantano also claimed her son’s chief accuser, radio operator Sgt. Daniel Coburn, has been engaged in “malicious behavior” toward him, “slandering and disparaging” him on various Internet chat rooms, despite insisting he bears no grudge.

She said “concerned citizens” were able to verify Coburn as the source of the online messages.

The messages alone should be enough to drop the charges, she contended.

“In believing that he could attack my son anonymously in order to damage my son’s reputation and salvage his own career, he has once again demonstrated his disingenuous motives in launching his accusations,” Merry Pantano said.

Related stories:

Pantano gets congressional support

Accused U.S. Marine sent Iraqis ‘a message’

FBI probing threat against accused Marine

Accused Marine featured in gripping story

Witness backs accused Marine’s story

Marines urge patience in accused-officer case

Marine’s charges set ‘terrible precedent’

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