The system didn’t work for Clint Lorance. It didn’t protect him or his paratroopers. The system, the chain of command, and the Army committed a grave injustice and put a man in prison for killing enemy combatants who were getting ready to attack his soldiers.
Lorance’s own chain of command, due to political fallout, sold him out in a clear case of covering their own asses and branded him “a bad apple” and “off the rails” just three days after selecting him to replace a wounded platoon leader in a very contested area of Afghanistan.
NEWSREP has reached out to soldiers who knew him and to his civilian attorney John Maher, a former Army JAG officer. Their comments and the evidence they’ve uncovered presents a very different picture of the man who was railroaded into Leavenworth for 19 years for murdering “unarmed civilians” and changing the rules of engagement (ROE).
A former Army 1st lieutenant, Lorance was a platoon leader in the 4th Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division in Afghanistan. He was stationed at Strong Point Payenzai, outside of the village of Sarenzai in the Zharay district of Kandahar Province.
The platoon had lost four men to wounds, including the previous platoon leader, 1st Lt. Dominic Latino who was wounded in the legs, abdomen, and face by IED fragments just three days prior.
Lorance was chosen by his battalion commander, Colonel Mannes, to take over once Lieutenant Latino was wounded. On his second and final combat control, on July 2, 2012, an incident transpired that led to Lorance being charged with murder.
The platoon had to move single file, due to minefields outside the base, and up and down a series of rowed grape berms that were so tall that paratroopers in the lee of the berms couldn’t see over them. Afghan soldiers in the Afghan National Army were in the lead.
Sergeant First Class Ayres, the platoon sergeant (senior enlisted leader) testified: “Every time we’d go in there [village] we got shot at.”
Every time we moved in, in any type of village, we pretty much constantly observed enemy forces monitoring our movement, maneuvering on us, getting into their fighting positions ready to fight,” Ayres said.
This action occurred during the height of the fighting season when one of Lorance’s paratroopers in the platoon saw three Afghan men riding on a single motorcycle at an excessive rate of speed towards the platoon’s route of march through a minefield. They were taking a known enemy avenue of approach, called Route Chiliwack.
The paratrooper, Private First Class Skelton, fired his rifle twice, as he later testified, in compliance with the rules of engagement, justifying deadly force in self-defense and in defense of others. But he missed. Lorance gave a radio order to other members of the platoon to fire on the motorcycle. A gun truck, an armored vehicle with an M240 machine gun in an overwatch position to cover the paratroopers, opened fire. Two of the riders were killed and the third escaped.
As the platoon pushed through the village, the lead element, with its gun crew in a covering position, reported several Afghan villagers bobbing up and down among the grape berms, gesturing at the Americans and talking on small hand-held radios. Intercepted chatter was translated later to conclude that the men were Taliban and about to attack the platoon.
The men were veterans of several months of this type of action. They didn’t need or wait for orders from Lorance. They opened fire, killing two and wounding a third. The wounded man tested positive for explosives, indications of recent bomb-making evidence. His name was Mohammed Rahim. He was brought to Kandahar hospital, treated, then released. Another lone motorcycle rider approached the platoon. He, too, tested positive for explosives but was also released.
On the same route back through the village and into the strong point, one of the soldiers identified one of the dead as a village elder. This immediately triggered a civilian casualty (CIVCAS) investigation from higher headquarters.
Just two weeks before, Afghan President Karzai had decried the number of civilian casualties at the hands of conventional U.S. forces, who he accused of indiscriminately attacking civilians. This was all it took for the chain of command to begin its CYA actions.
Nine soldiers from the platoon were immediately segregated from the rest of the unit and their platoon leader. They were branded as “war criminals” and reassigned to other units. They were given official statement forms and told to fill them out. Ultimately, the soldiers were granted immunity and ordered to cooperate and testify against their new platoon leader, who had been with them less than 72 hours.
Army CID interviewed an Afghan villager named Ahad who identified the two dead Afghans as his father, Aslam, and his brother, Ghamai. The wounded Afghan was his uncle, Haji Karimullah.
Ahad also stated that his cousin, Jam Mohammad, was killed and his brother-in-law, Mohammad Rahim, who was detained with homemade explosives on his hands, was shot in the arm in the second engagement. He also told CID that Karimullah, the third rider who escaped from the first engagement, was a known associate of Rahim.
One month after the platoon fired on the motorcycle, the Army issued a Significant Activity Report, or SIGACT, dated August 2, 2012. In it, the Army concluded Lorance’s platoon was being scouted for an “impending attack or ambush,” and that at least one insurgent was killed.
The next day, August 3, 2012, the CID interviewed Lieutenant Latino, the previous platoon leader who had been medically evacuated from the field after an IED exploded and wounded him.
In a type-written sworn statement, Latino related that during his tenure as platoon leader, he would never let a motorcycle near First Platoon because of the deadly risk it posed.
Specifically, Latino wrote, “We would not let a motorcycle into close proximity of our element due to current tactics, techniques, and procedures of enemy forces.” A review of Latino’s statement, however, shows the portion in which Latino discusses the importance of not letting motorcycles near his platoon was struck from the official record. This key statement – which cuts to the heart of the prosecution’s case – was the only portion of the entire statement that was struck or lined out.
The Army, when bringing charges against Lorance, also lined out the names of the three Afghan men, Karimullah, Aslam, and Ghamai, on the charging documents and wrote in penmanship for each specification, “a male of apparent Afghan descent.”
Why? Because each of the three were being treated as a CIVCAS and not the Taliban bombmakers they all were. The Army prosecutors and CID had the readily accessible biometric data and fingerprints that these three were terrorist bombmakers.
In the habeas corpus writ filed by one of Lorance’s defense attorneys, John Maher, a document which was shared with NEWSREP, the following information was readily available but withheld at Lorance’s court-martial.
1) Ahad has a biometric enrollment number of B28JMUUYZ. He left his fingerprints or DNA on bomb components at IED event numbers 13/0248, 11/110317-02, 09/0520, and 10/8472.
2) Ghamai has a biometric enrollment number of B2JK9-B3R3. He left his fingerprints or DNA on bomb components at IED event number 12/1229.
3) Karimullah has a biometric enrollment number of B2JK4-G7D7. He left his fingerprints or DNA on bomb components at IED event number 12/0156.
4) Rahim has a biometric enrollment number of B28JP-QWTY. He left his fingerprints or DNA on IED components at IED event number 12/1797.
Lorance’s defense discovery request for criminal histories or reports of violence were held within military records in connection with the “deceased persons.” Specifically, the defense sought records of “investigations,” “apprehensions,” and/or “titling,” which involved “military investigatory agencies” relating to “persons who were in any way involved with the instant case,” to include “deceased persons.”
All of this was in the hands of the Army prosecutors and CID — but none of it was shared.
Ultimately, the court-martial in 2013 convicted Lorance of two counts of murder, but he was acquitted of changing the rules of engagement.
In 2017, he had an appeal with the Army’s Court of Criminal Appeals. Chief Judge of the Army Court, who is also the Commander of the U.S. Army Legal Services Agency, Brig. Gen. Joseph B. Berger III, compared Lorance to Lt. William Calley of the My Lai Massacre:
Clint Lorance was a very aggressive lieutenant, who had his own ideas about how the war in Afghanistan should be being fought. Those ideas were not in align with the rules of engagement. And that’s the fundamental fact that starts us off the trail here. And off the rails. Lorance gives his soldiers guidance that is not in accordance with the ROE. Motorcycles are allowed to be engaged on sight – that’s the guidance given. Not a lawful order, but his soldiers don’t necessarily know that, because a change to the ROE would logically come through the chain of command.”
These statements once again parrot the line that Lorance was a “bad apple” and ignore the fact Lorance was acquitted of changing the ROE. And his comparing this incident to My Lai is patently outrageous.
Lorance’s defense team, headed up by Maher, was adamant about proving not only their client’s innocence but to bring to light the actions of his company, battalion, brigade, and division commanders who sought to throw this lieutenant under the bus and protect their own careers. “They’ve gone so far, to include Gen. Joseph Berger, that you can see it on YouTube where he says, ‘Lorance took it upon himself to change the rules of engagement to fire on any motorcycle on sight.’ Except what? He was found not guilty of that offense. So, now you have the senior legal advisers to the Army lying to a Strategic Studies think-tank and comparing it to the My Lai Massacre.”
Maher added, “This is just crazy.”
Maher mentioned the Karzai visit and the incident two months prior where a soldiers in a neighboring province was accused of murdering 16 civilians. “The chain of command had a deep pucker factor over these incidents,” he said. “Their next decision was, ‘How do we get out of this?’”
“Then they distanced themselves from Clint (Lorance) and turned their back on him.”
So was Lorance indeed a “bad apple?” No, according to his battalion sergeant major. In a statement for the defense, Sergeant Major Daniel Gustafson wrote the following:
I am personally aware of Lorance’s professional reputation, loyal service, and stellar performance within our unit, especially his competence and reliability while working at the Brigade Tactical Operations Center, where I observed Lorance operate on a daily basis.”
“Lorance is sharp, smart, and respected. The chain-of-command thought so highly of him that when Latino was wounded, there were a number of lieutenants who could have been selected for this tough assignment that would absolutely result in gunfights occurring while on every patrol.” [Emphasis added by the author — editor.]
“I am 100% confident that Lorance’s platoon was being scouted for an impending attack or ambush during this combat patrol in a very hot combat zone. I base this assessment on my first-hand understanding of the conditions on the ground, beginning with knowledge of the enemy’s tactics, techniques, and procedures. For example, their re-laying of mines to confuse and kill our paratroopers, probing with scouts on motorcycles while using ICOM radios to facilitate ambushes and attacks on our paratroopers, and maneuvering to gain tactical advantage to shoot and kill our paratroopers.”
“As a professional career soldiers with multiple combat tours, to include first-hand combat experience on this very battlefield, I would have fired my rifle and ordered my subordinates to fire to stop the three riders and their motorcycle (which could very well have been packed with bombs and explosives). Lorance was doing his job and if anyone else found themselves in the same situation, they would have done the same thing.”
“The chain of command failed this young man. They used him as the scapegoat at a time in Afghanistan when the commanding general in-country was looking to hold someone accountable because of other civilian casualties that had occurred in other locations prior to this.”
“Clearly, the division commander, the brigade commander, and the squadron commander aren’t going to take the responsibility. Why wasn’t the troop commander, Lorance’s direct supervisor, held accountable? I believe that those charges never would have been brought if the CIVCAS issue did not arise.”
“I was there. This was my unit. I walked that village. I know Lorance is NOT a rogue officer on a mission to kill.”
The sergeant major hits right at the crux of the entire sorry spectacle. This platoon was located in a very hot operational area. Any battalion commander worth a bucket of spit isn’t going to put a “bad apple” or an “off the rails” lieutenant there. That is the kind of place they’d try to keep a person like that as far away from as possible.
The command thought highly of Lieutenant Lorance, highly enough that they chose him over several other officers to take command of the platoon. Yet three days later, they characterized him as a “bad apple.” Why? And if he was, then they themselves should have been indicted.
Capt. Zachary Pierce, who supervised Lorance, paints a different picture of the person who was characterized as a bloodthirsty officer:
As a lieutenant, as a paratrooper, as a soldiers, I think it’s difficult to find an equal. He’s unparalleled in his adherence to standards and true – the right way of doing things. He doesn’t cut corners. Truly competent, truly trustworthy. Responsible and willing to take criticism well. Develops himself. Learns from his experiences, from his failures and successes. As a person, he is one of the kindest and gentlest people I’ve met, particularly in the Army. It’s uncommon to have someone so truly kind in this organization. I don’t think I’ve ever, and could ever, envision any kind of malice or ill-intent in Clint’s heart.”
By ignoring the biometric data that specifically linked the dead men to the Taliban, the Army basically ignored its own commander’s guidance. “The U.S. Army Commander’s Guide to Biometrics in Afghanistan” provides:
Biometrics is a decisive battlefield capability being used with increasing intensity and success across Afghanistan. It effectively identifies insurgents, verifies local and third-country nationals accessing our bases and facilities, and links people to events. The biometric technology allows the targeting of persons of interest (POIs) more precisely and helps to provide desperately needed security for local populations.
Across Afghanistan, there are normally four to five watch-list hits each day based solely on biometrics. These watch-list hits allow the identification and potential detainment of POIs who operate counter to Afghan, International Security Assistance Force, and coalition goals. Beyond Afghanistan, biometrics enables the tracking of POIs across international borders and prevents them from entering the United States.”
Maher, in speaking with NEWSREP, said there is evidence that the defense is trying to track down that perhaps the Afghan Army troops shot at the approaching motorcycle first. He asked, “If the Afghan troops opened fire first, how do we know whose rounds actually killed the Afghans?”
“It was a shoddy investigation in that regard,” he added. Maher mentioned that Don Brown is on the defense team and has written a book, “Travesty of Justice.” He joked: “We won’t hold it against Don because he was a Navy JAG,” but encouraged all followers of the trial to read the book.
In a recent interview with the Baltimore Sun, Brown had this to say about the trial and imprisonment of Clint Lorance:
An innocent man is sitting in a military prison based upon a political prosecution, where the United States government has turned its back on an American patriot who volunteered to give his life for his country, and was only trying to protect his men who could have gotten blown the hell up in a very tense situation on a hot battlefield in Afghanistan.”
“Not only was the railroad political prosecution and court-martial against Clint Lorance a despicable TRAVESTY OF JUSTICE at the time for the prosecution, but for every day that Clint Lorance sits as a common criminal behind steel bars at the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, that travesty is relived every day. And the only thing Clint did was try to save his men, by ordering them to open fire on what appeared to be a certain suicide attack by motorcycle carried out by the Taliban. These attacks have become numerous and killed many American service members.”
Maher and his defense team are taking an appeal to a civilian court but they’re really hoping for some commander-in-chief involvement.
Maher said the defense team had petitioned President Trump, who, under Article 22 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, can act as the convening authority of Lorance’s court-martial and disapprove the findings of the court. This is different than a pardon, Maher explained, as this would wipe the slate clean of his conviction.
Maher related a conversation he had with Lorance where he said, “John, if I hadn’t given that order to fire and the motorcycle had blown up and taken the lives of some of my soldiers, I’d be in a different kind of prison for the rest of my life.”
He said, despite all of this, Lorance has kept his sense of humor. He said he was sending his client some paperwork but told him, “I won’t pull the trigger on this until I hear from you.” He said Lorance laughed and replied, “I can’t believe that you just said that to me.”
Lorance continues to watch out for his men, being named as a “pod leader” in Leavenworth. In that role, he is constantly trying to help other former soldiers to help themselves by getting them to use whatever benefits are at their disposal, encouraging them to grow spiritually and individually, and generally looking out for their welfare.
Lorance doesn’t belong in Leavenworth. But there he sits, and his “crimes” are vast. He tried to protect the lives of the paratroopers under his command. Isn’t that what we demand of all of our leaders?