On July 2, 2012, in broad daylight, in Taliban-controlled territory, three men on a motorcycle were speeding towards Army Lieutenant Clint Lorance’s dismounted infantry platoon subordinates. They had ignored signs on the road saying it was to be used only by ISAF and Afghanistan military and police units. The Taliban had recently conducted several suicide attacks upon U.S. forces using motorcycles, the platoon had been repeatedly attacked during the past month, and they had been sniped at from that same road the day before. Then 27-year old Iraq War veteran Lorance had assumed command of the platoon 3 days earlier after the previous platoon leader and another soldier were badly wounded by an IED nearby. An endangered American soldier asked Lorance for permission to fire.
Lorance gave the order to shoot. Had he not given it, within seconds more American soldiers would most likely be dead or maimed for life.
Two Taliban riders died and the third escaped. (More about them in a moment.) While the motorcycle did not explode, it could not be recovered to check for bombs as an attack from another direction loomed. Villagers dragged off the bike and the dead riders were buried by locals without an autopsy to determine if the bullets that killed them were fired by U.S. troops of by Afghanistan Army troops who also fired at the motorcycle.
Even without knowing the exculpatory evidence – proof positive bio-metric and other evidence that the riders were Taliban bombers – which the prosecution later withheld from his defense lawyers and the jury, Lorance knew enough to make giving the order to shoot his duty.
A year later, Lorance was acquitted of ROE violations. Yet, incredibly, he was convicted of murder and is spending the prime years of his life in Fort Leavenworth’s prison for making the right, split-second decision. After nearly 10 years of honorable and heroic service in the Army, he may spend 19 years in a cell and be nearing 50-years old before he is freed.
President Trump has the authority to disapprove Lorance’s conviction with prejudice, restore him to military duty with back pay, and, by doing so, begin to reverse this travesty of justice.
According to military prosecutors, when the enemy acted as though they were about to attack, our troops were required under the Rules of Engagement (ROE) to delay firing their weapons until determining whether the fast-approaching motorcycle displayed a “hostile intent.” They then were to make a battlefield determination as to whether the fast-moving inbound motorcycle constituted a “hostile act.” But doing so would have increased the risk to themselves and the lives of their fellow troops. In other words, they were to play battlefield lawyer when all they did was sign up to defend our nation.
While Lorance was acquitted of ROE-related charges, his chain of command’s gutless, political and self-serving decision to charge him was all about ROE that should never been formulated or enforced. The chain of command – from the then President down to his company commander – more than failed Clint Lorance; they failed our country. They made an example of him. Yet they also empowered our nation’s sworn enemies with strategic and tactical advantages.
President Trump doing the right thing by Lorance would send two main messages to our military: stop prosecuting your troops for doing their sworn duty; and your mission is to win battles and help prevent further attacks upon our homeland and interests abroad.
An experienced and decorated American combat veteran soldier was convicted and incarcerated for the very thing his superiors gave him the authority and responsibility to do. Moreover, he did what the American people expect our small unit leaders to do. Clint Lorance made a combat decision to protect our side’s troops.
The American people don’t expect our troops to commit suicide to accomplish the missions we send them on. If anyone made that same decision 70 years earlier during WWII while fighting the suicide-for-their-emperor-loving forces of Imperial Japan, they’d have received praise from their superiors.
President Trump should act immediately. Clint Lorance has already spent 6 years in a cell.
Post updated at 12:22 PM, May 16, 2019.