President Donald Trump is expected to act on two court-martial cases that involved U.S. troops accused of war crimes.
The two cases involve Former 1st Lt. Clint Lorance, who is serving a 19-year sentence, for murder, in Fort Leavenworth’s military prison. He ordered, in 2012, an enlisted soldier to fire on supposedly unarmed Afghan motorcyclists.
Major Mark Golsteyn was a former decorated Green Beret that is accused of killing a Taliban bombmaker.
“I was able to confirm yesterday — from the president of the United States himself, the commander in chief — that action is imminent, especially on the two cases of Clint Lorance and Matt Golsteyn,” said Fox News host Pete Hegseth.
“The president, as the command-in-chief, has a lot of latitude under the Uniformed Code of Military Justice to dismiss a case or change a sentence, and from what I understand, that is what will happen shortly.”
What the President will do is unclear at this point, but he has the authority to either disprove the findings of a trial or dismiss the charges entirely. In the case of Lorance, his attorney John Maher is asking for the President to exonerate his client.
Maher spoke with the Army Times and said: “In the case of Lorance, we’re asking the president to disapprove the findings and the sentence. This would be to return the status quo: to wipe the slate clean, no convictions and no sentence.”
Pardoning Lorance isn’t enough, Maher added, as it does not reinstate Lorance’s VA benefits and doesn’t reverse his guilt. “Those all stand as obstacles that Clint has for later life,” Maher said.
Lorance was railroaded by his chain of command and unfairly presented as a “bad apple” after having been personally chosen by his Battalion Commander to replace the previous Lieutenant who had himself been wounded in an IED attack.
The military (and the Army Times article) has stuck with only part of the story. Yes, some of Lorance’s soldiers did in fact testify against him, believing that he was wrong to fire on the motorcyclists. But they ignored the evidence that the Afghans were IED bombmakers, as well as the fact that the Army in an after-action report, stated that his platoon was dealing with “an impending IED attack.”
Several months ago, SOFREP spoke with Lorance’s lawyer and the soldiers who were there. Those people paint a very different picture of what transpired and who Clint Lorance is as a man and an officer. And we’ll revisit what we learned.
Lorance was chosen by his Battalion Commander to be a platoon leader in the 4th Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division in Afghanistan 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 1LT Dominic Latino who was wounded in the legs, abdomen, and face by IED fragments just three days prior.
The area was so hot that the platoon had to move single file, due to minefields right outside their 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 ANA (Afghan National Army) were in the lead.
Sergeant First Class (SFC) Ayres, the Platoon Sergeant (senior enlisted leader) testified that “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.”
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 speed towards the Platoon’s route of march through a minefield. They were taking a known enemy avenue of approach (Route Chilliwack).
The paratrooper PFC Skelton fired his rifle twice, as he later testified, in compliance with the rules of engagement (ROE) justifying deadly force in self-defense and defense of others. But he missed the target. 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 covering 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.
But 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 was tested positive for explosives — indications of recent bomb-making evidence. His name was Mohammed Rahim. He was brought to Kandahar hospital, treated and 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 strongpoint, 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, President Karzai of Afghanistan 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 their own actions to cover their own asses and throw Lorance under the bus.
Nine soldiers of the platoon were immediately segregated from the rest of the unit and their platoon leader, and 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 then granted immunity and ordered to cooperate against their new platoon leader, who had been with them less than 72 hours. The handwriting was already on the wall for Lorance.
The Army’s Criminal Investigation Division ( 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 HME (Homemade explosives) in his hands, was shot in the arm in the second engagement. He also told the 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 that 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 Dominic 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 the 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 that 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 had been struck or lined out.
But the Army, in an attempt to appease Karzai, lined out the names and biographies of the three Afghan men and only wrote that each of the Afghans was “a male of apparent Afghan descent.”
In the habeas corpus writ filed by the defense attorneys for Lorance (Mr. John Maher), which was shared with SOFREP, 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 requested criminal histories or reports of violence held within military records in connection with the “deceased persons.” Specifically, the defense sought records of “investigations,” “apprehensions,” and/or “titling,” that 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 with the defense.
During the court-martial in 2013, Lorance was convicted of two counts of murder, but he was acquitted of changing the rules of engagement.
In 2017, he had an appeal hearing 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, Brigadier General Joseph B. Berger III, ignored the fact that Lorance was cleared of the charge of changing the ROE and then ridiculously 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.”
Maher tried to bring the actions of Lorance’s Company, Battalion, Brigade, and Division commanders to light since they, in his view used Lorance as a scapegoat.
“They’ve gone so far, to include General 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 advisors 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 soldier 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.”
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 (TOC), 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.”
“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 (TTPs), 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 Soldier 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 (CIVCAS) 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 rouge 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 place from which they’d try to keep a person like that as far away from as possible.
The command thought highly enough of Lorance that they chose him over several other officers to take over the command of the platoon. But yet three days later, they characterized him as a “bad apple”…why? And if he was, then they themselves should have been indicted.
Captain Zachary Pierce, who supervised Lorance, paints a different picture of the person who was characterized as a bloodthirsty officer. In an evaluation report, he wrote:
“As a lieutenant, as a paratrooper, as a Soldier, 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. It’s difficult to ever, I’d don’t think I’ve ever and could ever envision any kind of malice or ill-intent in Clint’s heart.”
Maher characterized the entire sad affair as a shoddy investigation. Don Brown who is on Lorance’s defense team gave an interview with the Baltimore Sun where he said the following:
“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.”
Lorance sits in Leavenworth and now awaits to see if President Trump’s actions will clear his name and reputation. He believed then, and still does today, that his actions were taken only to save American lives.
It’s the actions of the bomb-makers should be the focus of the investigation.