On 2 JUL 2012, US Army 1LT Clint Lorance ordered his soldiers in 4th Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment to fire on three unarmed Afghan men on a motorcycle near their patrol in Strong Point Payenzai, Afghanistan. The military justice system retains a legal and moral obligation to investigate all civilian-casualty incidents involving military operations. Did Lorance follow procedures of Rules of Engagement (ROE) or did he have his own agenda that went against the Army’s core values of Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity, and Personal Courage?
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US Army 1LT Clint Lorance was a young, inexperienced officer who made a wrong call in a heated war zone with just seconds to decide. Lorance’s advocates claim his court martial, his chain of command, and the Army committed a serious injustice and incarcerated an innocent man for killing threatening enemy combatants. Opponents motivated by political pressure argue that Lorance gave his soldiers guidance that is not in accordance with ROEs. 1LT Clint Lorance’s controversial conviction for second-degree murder and its aftermath begs the question of whether the officer rendered a just order.
PFC James Skelton identified the approaching motorcycle as a threat to his platoon. Lorance ordered PFC Skelton to fire on the motorcycle. When he missed, Lorance radioed a truck in the area and ordered its gunner to fire on the motorcycle. Consistent with ROEs, Lorance acted on PFC Skelton’s judgement of the threat when he ordered the fire. Many ethical issues surround this case as testimony suggests that enemy troops scouted Lorance’s platoon.
Per his testimony, PFC Skelton followed ROEs when he fired as the Afghan motorcycle travelled at high speed toward his patrol. However, afterwards Lorance created false reports indicating the removal of the two enemy corpses. Additionally, though, US troops neglected to inspect the motorcycle for weapons and it is unknown what the third escapee had in his possession.
1LT Lorance rendered just actions to protect his fellow soldiers and received an unfitting punishment even though his own soldiers thought of him as oblivious and overzealous. Lorance’s platoon lay in a hotbed of insurgent activity. The Army though ultimately ordered Lorance’s platoon to testify against him. First Platoon soldiers testified that Lorance’s order was wrong. Although, his spotter requested authorization to fire and engage the “enemy.” Testimony followed from one soldier who did not fire their weapon due to the possibility of women and children in the area.
A jury found Lorance guilty on two counts of second-degree murder, obstruction of justice, and additional allegations including threatening behavior toward Afghans. The military system sentenced him to 20 years in prison. Lorance served about 6 years of that sentence at Fort Leavenworth. Lorance should not have even served a single day of that sentence. US Army 1LT Clint Lorance upheld the constitution defending against all enemies foreign and domestic.
Politics influenced Lorance’s case as at the time, the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) were in the process of renegotiation. This agreement governs which country maintains criminal authority over U.S. personnel. Also, Robert Bales set a precedence killing 16 Afghans in Kandahar village nearly 4 months earlier. On high alert, Army and military officials undertook swift action. Lorance did not fire his own weapon. He made the call to engage whether it be rightfully or wrongfully, and thus his actions rendered him a guilty verdict.
Position, Conclusion and Recommendation(s)
US Army 1LT Clint Lorance had a duty to protect his soldiers as the enemy attacked his platoon in the same area days earlier. ILT Lorance was an unseasoned leader whose chain of command failed him. Lorance saved his platoon that day as testified by the Army Commendation Medal bestowed upon him by his brigade commander. In this case, nine soldiers who were first murder suspects received immunity in exchange for testifying against Lorance. Many questions such as politics and Lorance’s sexual orientation surround their motivation.
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Lorance eventually gained new counsel John N. Maher through United American Patriots (UAP). Maher demanded clemency and for a new trial through the civilian court system. Prosecutors described the Afghan victims as village elders making them civilian casualties, but biometric data later confirmed them as enemy combatants. Further concerns from Lorance’s court martial include a violation of Lorance’s rights, prosecutorial misconduct, unlawful command influence, and investigator abuse. Furthermore, Lorance never testified in trial to defend his character. Most importantly, the prosecution suppressed from evidence biometric data along with sworn statements that the Afghans fired first upon the American patrol and Afghan National Army (ANAs).
To some, Lorance’s eventual pardon from President Trump in NOV 2019 abandons the moral high ground of America even though Lorance asserts the Pentagon brass threw him under the bus. US Army 1LT Clint Lorance gave the order to fire to protect his platoon, but never shot his weapon. At the time, motorcycles were very much a deadly threat to American troops. In fact, previous platoon leaders never allowed motorcycles near the platoon and Lorance’s own testimony omitted this fact. Intelligence reports did suggest that Taliban members rode motorcycles. Ultimately, US forces may open fire if they detect hostile intent. The benefit of the doubt in a combat situation should always go to the soldier on the ground with the best, firsthand intel. US Army 1LT Clint Lorance reacted with fire in accordance with ROEs in order to protect his soldiers.
- Ackerman, Elliot. “Trump’s Pardons of U.S. Soldiers Defiles America’s Military.” TIME Magazine, vol. 194, no. 24/25, Dec. 2019, p. 29.
- Brown, Don. Travesty of Justice: The Shocking Prosecution of Lt. Clint Lorance. Denver, WildBlue Press, 2019.
- Laguna, Lupe. “To Be Judged by Twelve or Carried by Six? Quasi-Involuntariness and the Criminal Prosecution of Service Members for the Use of Force in Combat--A Grunt’s Perspective.” Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology, vol. 105, no. 2, Spring 2016, p. 431.
- Leavenworth. Directed by Paul Pawlowski, STARZ, 2019.
- Patterson, Eric. Ethics Beyond War’s End. Georgetown University Press, 2012.
- Tan, Michelle. “Hero or Murderer?” Army Times, vol. 75, no. 28, Jan. 2015, p. 14.
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