New evidence in Lorance case calls platoon mates’ claims into question

Anna Lorance with son Clint Lorance

Anna Lorance (right), mother of former 1LT Clint Lorance (center), appeared on Fox and Friends on Monday, Dec. 15, to share breaking news about new evidence in his case. The family photo shown here is snipped from the F&F video of her appearance.

Filed by Kay B. Day

No mother has advocated more for a son than Anna Lorance. Anna has done what most of us would do if we knew our child had not been treated justly by a government entity. That former 1LT Clint Lorance was not treated justly is indisputable because in addition to documented legal errors at trial, evidence that might have changed the minds of the military panel members who judged him was not shared with the defense counsel.

In a civilian trial where someone is accused of murder and the prosecutor does not share that sort of evidence, the defense would prevail in one way or another.

Anna is paying a price for her advocacy. She’s already faced with missing time with her son, but of late she has dealt with some negative comments on a social media site she set up to help Clint. Some of those negative comments came from “former paratroopers of 1st Platoon in the 82nd Airborne Division’s 4th B,” according to a letter from Lorance’s attorney. 

Testifying at trial and speaking to media, a number of soldiers who served in Lorance’s platoon offered disparaging testimony.  Some of the posts directed at Anna on social media do the same.

Former platoon mates should read evidence withheld

Acknowledging the paratroopers’ rights to express their views, Lorance’s attorney John N. Maher wrote in a letter to interested parties:

“To be fair…we respectfully request that the authors of these comments read the information contained in Appendices A & B, available on the Web, attached to 1LT Lorance’s January 10, 2015 filing with the Commanding General, 82nd Airborne Division.”

Those documents and many other documents related to Lorance’s case are available to the public and media at Free Clint Lorance. The documents contain evidence about the men Lorance was convicted of murdering or attempting to murder.

For those not familiar with his case, Lorance ordered his men to fire on three men “of apparent Afghan descent” who approached his platoon on a motorcycle on July 2, 2012 in a hostile war zone in southern Afghanistan. The zone was described at trial as an “aggressive” area where the platoon had recently been temporarily removed because of casualties suffered before Lorance became leader. Also confirmed at trial was the fact Taliban were using motorcycles.

Despite the danger in the area and significant casualties to the platoon before Lorance came, men in the platoon continue to cast the motorcycle riders in a positive light. There is no basis whatsoever for doing this; evidence suggests the opposite.

Lorance continues to maintain he did the right thing that day, holding to his duty to bring his men home safely.

Testimony of former Specialist Todd Anthony Fitzgerald vs. remarks to media

Some of the prosecution’s witnesses against Lorance did not receive immunity protecting them from prosecution in exchange for testimony. Former Specialist Todd Anthony Fitzgerald didn’t need immunity, he told Army Times in an interview:

“I wasn’t facing any charges, I wasn’t offered any incentives, I wasn’t threatened with any negative action.”

Fitzgerald said in court he never fired his weapon in that engagement. “I felt it would have been wrong to shoot them, especially after it [the motorcycle] was stopped and were just—they were just standing there. There was—there was no reason.”

Why Fitzgerald trusted the men isn’t fully explained. He did not know their names, their full identities, or their country of origin. Fitzgerald acknowledged the danger inherent in the patrol area. After a fellow platoon mate “fired off two or three rounds,” Fitzgerald testified [emphasis added], “I turned. I pulled security to make sure that we weren’t going to receive any fire from the wood line to our north that we had taken fire from in the past.”

Fitzgerald also acknowledged at trial that Lorance had said at a briefing prior to the patrol that he had gotten an intelligence report that Taliban were using motorcycles in the area.

The military had issued a memo in July, 2011 to warn about the use of motorcycles in attacks. The vehicles were used for suicide attacks (“most common in Pakistan and Afghanistan”) to either transport the attacker or to serve as a “vehicle-borne IED”.

Fitzgerald also answered at trial, “That’s correct,” after being asked if he had “seen many instances of the Taliban using motorcycles in the past” in that area.

The day before the shootings, the patrol had received fire near the same path. The trial transcript confirms it was “a route commonly used by the Taliban.”

The new lieutentant

Fitzgerald and Lorance did not get off to a good start with one another. For one thing, Lorance came off as a more formal leader, a sharp contrast to the former lieutenant who was on a first name basis with a number of his men. That lieutenant was seriously injured when one of his men stepped on an IED. Days before Lorance arrived, the platoon had, according to the transcript, “suffered quite a number of casualties.”

What sparked tension between the lieutenant and Fitzgerald was an equipment failure that increased risk for the platoon. Before the patrol that day, Lorance had “scolded” Fitzgerald about the platoon’s UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle). Fitzgerald was responsible for the UAV. Lorance wanted it in the sky during patrol. Fitzgerald couldn’t get it “up and running.”

Under examination by the prosecutor, Fitzgerald chalked up the UAV problem to batteries, “problems beyond my control.” He said there was “a known battery fault with the UAVs that would sometimes lead to propulsion failure.”

Trying to fix the UAV, Fitzgerald “broke several propellers,” and despite hours of trying to fix it, he failed.

Lorance, said Fitzgerald, threatened to take his rank.

The defense counsel questioned Fitzgerald about the battery problem:

“[Defense:] Now, Specialist, the batteries didn’t break the fuselage, did they?”

[Fitzgerald:] Negative, sir.

[Defense:] Did the batteries break the propellers?

[Fitzgerald:] No, sir.

[Defense:] And because of this problem with the UAV and the fact that it was meant to be there to safeguard American troops, you know the patrol was late starting that day. []

[Fitzgerald:] Yes, sir.”

What Fitzgerald and his platoon mates don’t know or disregard

When Maher took over as Lorance’s attorney, the lieutenant had been convicted of murder and attempted murder and lesser charges. At no time during the trial did the backgrounds or affiliations of the men on the motorcycle come up. During trial, witnesses affirmed it was not possible to differentiate between Taliban and villagers—the enemy wore no uniform and carried no country’s flag although Afghanistan had long given the enemy harbor in Tali-friendly villages such as the one in Lorance’s patrol area.

Rarely reported by media was the fact that there was another engagement nearby that day. What is known is that in that second engagement Lorance did not participate in, one man was killed and one man was shot in the arm.

This is where following the evidence requires patience. Maher lays all this out in his letter dated January 10, 2015.

The man killed in the second engagement was Jam Mohammad. The man who was shot in the arm was Rahm Mohammad. Jam was the cousin of Abdul Ahad. Raham was Abdul Ahad’s brother in law. The three men on the motorcycle in the engagement involving Lorance were Ahad’s uncle, brother, and father.

In the second engagement, a summary provided by Maher and based on government records shows “1st Platoon shot them after observing ICOM radio use consistent with scouting.”

The common tie for the men in both engagements was Abdul Ahad who was interviewed by the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division the Day of the shootings. Who is Abdul Ahad? What we do know and what the government did not tell the defense counsel was that Ahad had been “incarcerated at the Detention Center in Parwan, released in 2009, and is linked to four separate IED events…”

The third man on the motorcycle—Lorance is accused of attempting to murder him—was Haji Karamullah. Maher wrote, “What the government has not disclosed is that he is linked to a common IED event with [  ] AIDULLAH which occurred in August 2012 in the Zharay district of Kandahar. AIDULLAH is linked to 14 other IED events in the area of operations. Page 7 of Appendix A graphically depicts KARAMULLAH’s association to AIDULLAH and 6 other IED emplacers.”

Another man on the motorcycle is also linked to IED events, and Lorance is convicted of murdering this man.

Why would the government withhold this evidence? Did Lorance’s men ever learn that there was evidence suggesting the lieutenant made the right call?

Did Lorance’s men ever consider they might have ended up like the popular former lieutenant seriously injured along with others in the same area?

Maher wrote:

“Aware[ness] that the three riders were associated with terror is something the government should have shared with the paratroopers of 1st Platoon when interviewing them for trial. This would have allowed 1st Platoon’s paratroopers to consider all of the evidence before they followed their order from the Commanding General to testify…If any other paratrooper from 1st Platoon was being court-martialed, he too would have wanted the government to turn over this evidence.”

Many stories have been written about Lorance, a number of them in legacy media. No reporters, however, have quizzed the men who testified or spoke negatively about Lorance regarding the identities of the men on the motorcycle, and none have asked the government why information was withheld from defense and from the jury panel.

Maher prepared a chart showing the associations of the men on the motorcycle in the first engagement, the men in the second engagement, and one of the first witnesses the government interviewed the day Lorance engaged his men. The chart looks like a spiders’ web of combatants. The chart included this notation:

“Of the 29 members of one of the major IED cells in Kandahar, 9 of the facilitators…are either directly or indirectly associated with the Afghan military-aged males involved in this court martial.”

There’s a good chance Lorance’s platoon mates don’t know this now and they certainly didn’t know it when they decided with the benefit of hindsight the men they confronted posed no threat. In light of this evidence, Lorance’s supporters believe it is reasonable to assume Lorance made the right call about the men on the motorcycle.

No charges have ever been filed against soldiers who engaged in the second incident nearby.

As for Anna Lorance, she will continue to advocate for her son’s release, hoping his case will receive the attention it deserves and that President Barack Obama will pardon the soldier whose actions are little different from those the commander-in-chief routinely takes via the current US drone policy.

Total troop fatalities for Kandahar remain the second highest, at 555. Helmund had the most with 952. Both provinces are in southern Afghanistan. Those figures represent 1,507 soldiers who didn’t return home because of fate, or because someone made a wrong call.

Lorance’s case begs a question. Had he not engaged his men and had troop fatalities occurred, would he have faced charges?

(January 17, 2015)

Related at Day on the Day

Clemency denied: Pitfall for presidents who used same tactic as soldier (January 5, 2015)
http://dayontheday.com/2015/01/05/clemency-denied-pitfall-for-presidents-who-used-same-tactic-as-soldier/

Gateway article to 15-part series on the case of Clint Lorance
http://dayontheday.com/2014/12/19/hannity-leads-coverage-on-controversial-court-martial-of-clint-lorance/

Background, legal filings, and information about Lorance case

New Petition at The White House
https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/grant-presidential-pardon-us-army-lieutenant-clint-lorance-leavenworth-prison/bc3MtBPM

New evidence & clemency information
http://nebula.wsimg.com/aabcc07da77e0643e9a9c9f47d24429c?AccessKeyId=2A131D7BE2224E13EBB0&disposition=0&alloworigin=1

Facebook page for Clint Lorance
https://www.facebook.com/freeclintlorance

 Official website for Clint Lorance
http://www.freeclintlorance.com/

About Kay Day

Kay B. Day is a freelance writer who has published in national and international magazines and websites. The author of 3 books, her work is anthologized in textbooks and collections. She has won awards for poetry, nonfiction and fiction. Day is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors and the Authors Guild.
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