Former 1LT Clint Lorance is not the only soldier being punished for targeting enemies of the United States in a war zone.
Recently news surfaced about a soldier who was stripped of a Silver Star he received for actions in what a combat Marine veteran described as “an IED-infested, Taliban-dominated collection of villages and crisscrossing canals and tree lines” in Afghanistan. The story is familiar to anyone who has followed the influence of Washington politics on US war policy.
While politicians talk big in Washington, defense policy makers chose to hamstring troops sent into harm’s way.
The story of the soldier whose medal was revoked echoes others I have covered, from trumped up charges against Navy SEALs to a truly bizarre case of charging a young Army captain with murder. That captain wasn’t even present when the alleged “murder” occurred in Iraq. An outpouring of public advocacy helped achieve a positive outcome in those cases.
One of the most volatile areas in Afghanistan was Kandahar, and in 2012, when 1LT Clint Lorance took over as leader of a platoon near Panzai [spelling varies], he certainly knew it. Lorance was in charge for a very brief time, and on one of his first patrols, events would unfold that landed him in prison serving a 20 year sentence for murder and other charges.
Lorance’s actions on July 2, 2012 were criticized by some of his own men. He had only known them for days, and judging their testimony, it is obvious that these soldiers bought into Washington policy hook, line, and sinker. Some of their fellows paid a heavy price for this policy, sustaining severe injuries in an area well known for narcotics production and trafficking.
Some of the men who testified against Lorance received immunity for their own actions. That fact was never disclosed to the jury panel. Another soldier who did not receive immunity made remarks after trial that conflicted with his remarks at trial.
By the time Lorance’s new defense counsel learned critical evidence had been withheld by the prosecutor, it was too late. The court martial, plagued with legal errors, was done. I’ve written many stories about this case, and I am primarily concerned with the murder charges. I find those charges to be among the most outrageous I have encountered in many years of writing about criminal justice in both the private and defense sectors.
If you read the trial transcript, you will get the idea that men who were fired at by Lorance’s platoon were innocent civilians. This is how the prosecutor depicted them. Evidence discovered after the trial shows the government knew the targeted men had terrorist ties. The prosecutor and some of Lorance’s men constantly used the term ‘village elder’ or ‘civilians’. That, in the scheme of things, means nothing. In that part of Afghanistan, a village elder could be Taliban-friendly and sympathetic to terrorists and civilians could as well.
As a matter of fact, Kandahar has had and continues to have incidents of brutal violence at the hands of the Taliban whose terrorist bent and cruelty have not only killed American troops but Muslim civilians as well.
In March, 2012, authorities detained a “Pakistani suicide bomber along with a Taliban militant” in Kandahar.
In June, 2012, less than one month before Lorance took over his platoon, the Taliban killed 22 civilians and injured 50 others in Kandahar, a city United Kingdom news media appropriately described as “the spiritual birthplace of the Taliban…the site of some of the worst attacks during its insurgency.”
Approximately one week after Lorance’s patrol in July, 2012, two children younger than 12 years were killed. Lorance’s engagement had involved three men approaching his platoon on a motorcycle. Russia Today said of the attack resulting in the children’s deaths, “Three bombers were on a motorcycle when their explosives went off prematurely as they tried to attack the police compound.” On the same day in another province, a suicide bomber attempted an attack—he was on a bicycle.
In September, 2012, Taliban attacked Camp Bastion in Helmland Province, Afghanistan. By the time the camp was stabilized, two Marines, including the VMA-211 commanding officer, were dead. Nine other personnel had been wounded, including one contractor. John D. Gresham, writing for Defense Media Network, called the attack “arguably the worst day in USMC aviation history since the Tet Offensive of 1968.” Media paid scant attention.
By September, 2014, as the Obama administration tamped down criticism of the Taliban, The Guardian reported the deaths of 400 people in a story headlined, “Taliban sneak back into Kandahar, dressed as grape farmers.”
Media have made much of the fact some of Lorance’s men testified negatively about his actions. If you read the trial transcript, it becomes evident that there was a casual atmosphere prior to Lorance’s arrival and conditions could not be described as ideal. Seriously impacting his ability to conduct a safe patrol was the fact the platoon’s unmanned aerial vehicle had fallen into disrepair although it was critical equipment. That says a lot about discipline in place before Lorance arrived.
Anyone reading the trial transcript about Lorance’s court martial will be astonished at the free hand the prosecution enjoyed. The fact evidence was withheld should produce charges against whoever decided to do that.
In late January, 2015 news broke about the chief of military justice for the division Lorance’s case was part of:
“An officer who previously served as the chief of military justice for the 82nd Airborne Division was convicted Sunday of rape, forcible sodomy, assault and disobeying an order from a superior officer.”
Meanwhile, Lorance is serving 20 years at Ft. Leavenworth for his judgment call made in the interest of protecting his men whether they appreciated it or not.
Meanwhile the Taliban have gained ground. The Council on Foreign Relations summed up the state of the Taliban in 2014:
“Meanwhile, strong revenues from a bumper poppy harvest in 2013 and other illicit trade have further reduced the Taliban’s incentives to reach a negotiated settlement.”
As this column is published, more than 120,000 Americans have signed a petition at the White House website, asking for a presidential pardon for former 1LT Clint Lorance.
Official sites/Clint Lorance
New Petition at The White House
New evidence & clemency information
Facebook page for Clint Lorance
Official website for Clint Lorance
Day on the Day articles
New evidence in Lorance case calls platoon mates’ claims into question (January 17, 2015)
Clemency denied: Pitfall for presidents who used same tactic as soldier (January 5, 2015)
Gateway article to 15-part series on the case of Clint Lorance
(Commentary by Kay B. Day/Feb. 6, 2015)