Pt. 4 in a series
You’d think if the US Government decided to try an exemplary soldier for murder, the case would be clearcut—there would be no reasonable doubt as to guilt. You’d hope for that, wouldn’t you?
In the court martial of 1LT Clint Lorance, “clearcut” did not apply.
Reasonable doubt was abundant. A major sticking point in the case involves what the government consistently referred to as “male of apparent Afghan decent [sic].”
At the risk of sounding like a spelling cop, it’s useful to point out the word ‘decent’ is not spelled correctly throughout the transcript. Other typos exist, but that particular error recurred. The deceased are a complete mystery.
It’s also important to note overriding significance in the use of the adjective “apparent.” That word is loaded with unacknowledged possibilities.
ENGAGING THE PERCEIVED ENEMY
On July 2, 2012, Lorance permitted his patrol to engage after receiving communications that three men on a motorcycle were approaching. The day before, Lorance had led the patrol on a mission to interdict motorcycles, the mode of transport favored by Taliban. The object was to stop, question, search, and find out what the rider or riders might be doing in the area. The order to interdict had come from Lorance’s superiors. Such an operation was common—it was not, in Army-speak, “irregular.”
Specialist Matthew Rush testified about the platoon’s assessment of the small village of Sarenzai. Among Rush’s declarations were the following:
─Every time a two wheel motorcycle showed up, there was trouble.
─Confirmation the area was “a highly hostile area.”
─Confirmation the platoon “believed the villagers were either Taliban or supporting the Taliban.”
─Motorcycles like the one Lorance’s platoon engaged were used by the enemy to transport bad guys and to emplace IEDs.
It’s also important to remember Taliban and villagers were hard to tell apart—they all dressed alike. Taliban deliberately do not wear a uniform representing a country.
Testimony from other members of the platoon revealed the mission on July 2 was to go to Sarenzai “because we wanted to know how the Taliban were able to operate near there.” The general consensus was that the villagers were helping the Taliban. Prior to that day, a specialist had been shot in the neck there.
After the engagement with the suspect motorcycle, a cell phone was found on one of the riders. Cell phones are used to trigger an IED. Also post-engagement, helicopters spotted three more motorcycles with seven or eight men about 700 meters away.
Also during testimony, one platoon member revealed additional information about the third man on the motorcycle—he managed to run away. Here’s the exchange about that third male:
Q. Did you see the third one run away?
Q.Did you see that he ran towards the village?
Q. Did you know that he ran completely through the village and 12 out the back?
A.I didn’t know that, sir.
MISSED BOMBSHELL IN “APPARENT” AFGHAN DESCENT
Complicating the aftermath of the July 2 engagement, Lorance’s superiors refused to let investigators contact family members or associates of the deceased. Legal counsel for the government advised that the Criminal Investigation Division not meet and interview villagers.
The transcript itself reflects conflicting information given by some witnesses, but some things are crystal clear. Start with the fact Lorance was relying on communications from his men—he could not see the motorcycle in question.
The overriding concern, however, has to do with those males of “apparent” Afghan descent. “Apparent” is a loaded word. Enemy combatants from all over the world are drawn to hot spots in the ongoing conflicts in the Mideast and North Africa. Were the men on the motorcycle from Afghanistan? Or had they answered the political call for jihad from some distant place?
Were the men on the motorcycle village idiots? Were they completely unaware they were jeopardizing their own safety in a war zone where Taliban ruled and US troops were routinely fired upon in an effort to drive them towards IEDs?
Were the males of apparent Afghan descent enemy combatants, IED makers or emplacers, suicide bombers, or spotters?
And what, exactly, does “apparent” mean in this context? That word implies uncertainty. Bottom line: we have no credible information whatsoever about the nationality of those men on the motorcycle.
If the men of “apparent Afghan” descent were the enemy—and Lorance implicitly believed they were—the engagement was purely legal and in accordance with existing Rules of Engagement.
Reasonable doubt existed in abundance in the court martial of 1LT Clint Lorance. That the members who sat in judgment of him refused to acknowledge it should trouble any man or woman who volunteers to place his or her life on the line for our country. And that should trouble every American as well as those in authoritative positions in our military.
_____Ed. Note: A reader contacted me privately to ask if there was forensic evidence, such as bullets from the bodies. To my knowledge, no autopsy was conducted. This should have raised big reasonable doubts regarding the question of whose bullets actually hit the subjects.
(Analysis by Kay B. Day/Oct. 31, 2014)
Official pages for Clint Lorance
Previous stories in series on Clint Lorance
Government secret: Witnesses had immunity (Pt. 3)
Political prisoner Clint Lorance… (Pt. 2)
Dilemma facing boots on the ground