SAN DIEGO – A congressman said today he was ”beyond disappointed” with the Secretary of Defense’s announcement that a Camp Pendleton Marine killed in action in Iraq will not be awarded the Medal of Honor because doubts exist over whether he was able to take the actions attributed to him.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, in a letter to Rep. Duncan D. Hunter, R- El Cajon, cited ”stringent” Navy and Defense Department regulations that a Medal of Honor award must carry ”no margin of doubt or possibility of error,” and ”proof beyond a reasonable doubt” that a service member performed the valorous action for which the medal is recommended.
Sgt. Rafael Peralta of San Diego died during a firefight in Fallujah on Nov. 14, 2004. His family has declined the award of a Navy Cross, preferring the higher honor.
Panetta said that while eyewitnesses were mostly consistent, there was ”considerable medical and professional doubt” over whether the sergeant could have pulled a grenade under his body to save other members of his squad because he had already been shot in the head.
Panetta said he relied on opinions from medical examiners, including the one who performed the autopsy, forensic pathologists and other medical professionals, who raised ”more than reasonable doubt.”
Hunter said Peralta was a hero who died protecting his fellow Marines.
”He and his family are an inspiration to me and many others, for their courage, their dedication and their sacrifice,” Hunter said. ”While I vehemently disagree with Secretary Panetta’s decision, I do appreciate the fact that he took the time to personally examine the Peralta case and consider the new evidence that was submitted.”
The congressman said former Defense Secretary Robert Gates ”manufactured the doubt” regarding Peralta by convening forensic experts for the first time on record. He said he would investigate whether Gates had the legal authority to conduct such a review.
Five eyewitnesses confirmed Peralta’s actions, according to Hunter.
The Navy plans to name a destroyer after Peralta.