Clint Lorance: The Wrong Color to go Free

In the “Mad Duck” phase of the lame-duck Obama Administration, we expect even more pardons and commutations than the 1,300+ already issued in 2016, and we expect to see them go to the same kind of characters who have received them in the last eight years: gun-toting gangbangers and poison-peddling dope dealers. We can also expect more murderers airlifted out of Guantanamo and whisked back to resume the jihad. But we can tell you who won’t be getting out of jail for Christmas: First Lieutenant Clint Lorance.

Lorance is a former platoon leader in the 82nd who was hung out to dry for ordering his platoon to fire on three men, two of whom were shot dead (sounds like his guys needed to tighten up their marksmanship). The Afghans were unarmed when gunned down, all parties agree on that. The prosecution represented them as innocent farmers who were victims of cold-blooded murder. (To see the prosecution side of the story, which does indeed make Lorance look like a monster, read this article by the usually anti-military reporter. Michelle Tan; the prosecutors placed the story with her and gave her access to their witnesses).

But whatever the victims were, they weren’t just innocent farmers. Both of the men whose deaths sent Lorance to jail were already in the biometric database used to keep track of insurgents and terrorists. And prosecuting attorney CPT Kirk Otto knew that, and kept the information not only from Lorance’s defense, but from the command, the members of the Court, the Court Martial Convening Authority, and the public as well.

Now, there’s a reason lawyers have a reputation that’s somewhere around Dante’s Ninth Circle with Judas, Brutus, pedophiles (okay, they were probably in the Eighth) and Congressmen. In a way it’s inherent in an adversarial system that rewards, to steal book titles from Peter Grant, war to the knife, knife to the hilt tactics. The adversarial system is a bit like a representative republic: it’s a crummy way of doing things that happens to be better than all the other ways we’ve tried, so far. So barring some unlikely breakthrough in judicial philosophy, we’re stuck with it.

That said, the legal system with all its pettifogging has an extremely poor applicability to the events of combat. Lorance is in jail, why not the F-16 pilots that bombed the Canadians? If you’re going to make a decision based on appearances and international politics, that would have been a better case in which to do it. Our Canadian friends and allies are still justifiably bent out of shape over that, and unlike the Afghans, they’re really our friends and allies.

Then there are basic questions of equity to consider. The monsters of Guantanamo, many of whom had rivers of blood on their hands are out and about. Our team contributed one Malim Ahmad Abdul, then 48, along with documentation of approximately 350 homicides (often of whole families) and numerous other crimes; he confessed to most of the murders; and he’s long since been let go with a pat on the head. One wonders how he’s been running up the score since. And Lorance sits in Leavenworth.

You may make the statement that the release of Malim Ahmad served a political end and served US policy if not justice, with US policy at the time being to pretend Islamic terrorism didn’t exist, and see if closing our eyes made it disappear.

But there is another equitable comparison to be made: consider the worst atrocity case of the Vietnam War, the massacre at the hamlet of My Lai 4. The battalion commander was not prosecuted as he wore the protective ring of a West Pointer. The company commander was not prosecuted. The brigade commander, who was unpopular with his commander, was prosecuted but acquitted. One platoon leader was prosecuted. And this was an unquestioned atrocity, with civilians including women and children machine-gunned as they cowered in roadside ditches and village shelters. The prosecuted platoon leader had his sentence commuted, and later, reduced to house arrest and finally, he was granted a limited pardon by then-President Nixon.

Lorance is far from the only soldier to be targeted by the judge advocate general’s corps, the hand of the enemy in our own uniforms. Indeed, he’s one where the prosecution at least had an argument, unlike some of the other cases. But he’s an interesting example. And this Christmas, he’ll be setting that example in the US Disciplinary Barracks at Leavenworth, Kansas, while at least a thousand dope-dealing gangbangers will be back on the streets, as they like to say, “Keepin’ it real, you feel me?”

31 thoughts on “Clint Lorance: The Wrong Color to go Free

  1. RostislavDDD

    Find ten differences :).
    Group captain Ulman imprisoned in similar circumstances. After four verdicts (!) – “Innocent” jury trials. The difference – among the killed Chechens attended innocent taken for the cover. But Ullman fulfilling an order this could not have known.

    1. Hognose Post author

      Rostislav, I keep meaning to write about the Dagestani police hero you told be about to some time back. An inspiration to all of us.

      Re the courts martial (in both nations), it’s a fine line between keeping your army civilized and keeping your army ready. True in Russia, America, Germany, China. I believe the benefit of the doubt should go to the combat soldier or officer, and if he must be made an example of (for, say, coalition politics), he should be exonerated when it can be “safely” done.

      1. RostislavDDD

        Dear Hognose. I understand. But Ullmann, it’s not a scoundrel Budanov. Budanov was convicted of a dead girl almost by accident, the FSB came to the regiment, salvage the commander reconnaissance company, until he was killed.
        Everything was easy. Searched Khattab. Ulman group detained the car (to use the weapon, one killed, two people injured). Injured bandaged, the data transferred to the HQ. Detained Chechens suspected of route reconnaissance.
        From the HQ came the order – to shoot.
        Ullman did not believe it.
        They ordered again.
        Then emerged the german mentality and a belief in the sanctity of order. And also (he did not say that to me, it is my suspicion) – knowledge of who will be responsible if Khattab absconding.
        Colonel Plotnikov was the main fitness coach Airborne. He came from Moscow “catch Khattab” in order to become a general.
        I understand that this crime. And Ullman, take my word, did not have the pleasure. Man of duty.
        I advised them – “your only chance, Plotnikov on the bench.” But the three officers and NCO were less valuable to the military justice than the “Moscow” fitness-сolonel, with ties at the top. Who gave unprofessional orders, to kill innocent people, then deprived the army of four good soldiers.

        1. RostislavDDD

          I forgot to say. The emergence Plotnikov in court witness for the prosecution, and determined the unanimous verdict of acquittal. The jury found a mockery of justice.
          A 160 tank regiment was put in prison all command. Budanov for the girl, the chief of staff – for the commander reconnaissance company, deputy regiment commander for murder – has put a soldier on his knees and shot in the head. Three years later, the police found the bones.

  2. Heresolong

    Nothing says that a President has to wait until he is leaving office to pardon people or commute sentences. It doesn’t help the good Captain this Christmas but he could be released on January 21st and hopefully will.

  3. Zac

    It’s despicable what happens to the unlucky heroes. To be subject to combat, return home, and then to be prosecuted by your own countrymen. I used to be a prison guard at ol’ Leavenworth and Guantanamo (thank God I was able to reclass). At GTMO, real evil exists, as you said. After 10+ years of imprisonment, they are still in the fight, although their weapon of choice is literally feces, infected blood, and other bodily fluids. As a fresh SPC in Leavenworth, although knowing I was in the presence of quite a few pedophiles, I always kept in the back of my mind that there were men like 1LT Clint Lorance behind bars. I hope he is completely acquitted, and if so, he will be promoted with his peers as well as receive any relevant back-pay and money for every frisk and cell search he was subjected to.

  4. LCpl Martinez 29 Palms


    Can you explain how these JAG proceedings go in the Army?

    One of the guys I went to bootcamp with , did back to back to back deployments to Iraq, came home pretty fucked up, wife/family issues, debt, which lead to drugs, gambling, run-ins with local PD and also base MPs. eventually got pinched for domestic violence and drugs.

    But the guy was a killing machine out there and kept his platoon/company out of trouble. So essentially stateside/CONUS he was mal-adjusted, but out there where the rubber meets the road, the guy was a gifted warrior, just had the instincts for it.

    So when he was facing jail time for both military and civilian world offences, his unit leadership went to bat for him, arguing that he’d be more useful as a Marine in war time than sitting in some jail cell somewhere, so Marine JAG (upon his leadership’s request) pulled him out of the civilian pinch and also got him out of military jail,

    he ended up deploying a bunch more time.

    BUT my point here is that his unit to I’m sure higher powers went to bat for him to get JAG to work with him and the county DA off his back.

    1. Hognose Post author

      In theory it all works the same in all services. In practice not so much. Army lawyers are mostly young kids doing it for the loan payoff, and they hate the Army and they hate the warriors in it. (Not all, but mostly).

      1. LCpl Martinez 29 Palms

        I also noticed in the Marines, a lot of mustang JAG officers, enlisted Marines who get out, do college, then law school, then join the Marines again as lawyers,

        It’d be interesting to see a comparative ratio with other services.

        Also , there’s a lot of interaction between JAG Marine officers, with 0300 Os (LTs to Col.s), on base and on deployments, I’m sure that plays a big part behind the scenes.

        1. Hognose Post author

          The Staff Judge Advocates in SOF gigs in the army tend to be operators who went to law school (sometimes on the Army nickel) and came back in as JAGs. They tend to be at odds with their younger, inexperienced cohort, as law school tends to be less formative on them.

  5. Tom Stone

    Withholding exculpatory evidence isn’t cause for a new trial or a pardon?
    It’s a big no no in the civilian courts ( And happens all the time).

    1. jim h

      yeah, that caught my eye too. seemed like a great way to ensure you wind up with a mistrial. wonder if the exact nature of that exculpatory evidence winds up being labeled “classified” and not introduced.

  6. staghounds

    It’s only exculpatory if it’s relevant and admissible.

    Would knowledge that the dead were enemies have influenced the military jury? Probably.

    Would the Court have let them know that, when the defendant didn’t at the time of the killing?

    No way.

    It’s not a defence to murder that the person you murdered was a really bad person on other occasions.

    Often, at trial, defendants can present evidence of the alleged victim’s dangerousness in a self defence case, but that generally requires that the defendant have known about it beforehand. And of course there’s always the effective although legally nonexistent “he needed killing and I was the one to do it” defense, but again that’s all subtextual stuff.

    Still, It might be considered mitigating in sentencing, and that has to be turned over too. Although
    I’ve never heard “I did society a favor” specifically and directly admitted as a mitigating factor at sentencing.

    The CMA will decide, it’s a novel theory. And in any case, ALWAYS give a defendant EVERYTHING you know. More often than every other problem, when prosecutors get in trouble it’s a discovery violation. An open file policy prevents every one of those.

    1. DSM

      That put my thoughts into words, though based solely on what was inferred in the linked article.

      Right, wrong, or indifferent they’ll push that the order itself was damning. That these guys were after the fact confirmed bad guys might mitigate. In the world of opportunity, intent and capability the defense will be able to imply all three plus adding fog of war statements. The statements of his men are interesting however.

      Can you imagine, “Sorry sailor. You got bin Laden but you took 1600mg of Motrin that day so your judgment was impaired. It was an unlawful killing.”

      1. staghounds

        More like “Sorry, Sailor, you’re under arrest for breaking into some random house you picked off a Zillow advert and killing the occupants. Here’s your murder conviction.

        And twenty million dollar reward, because it happened to be Bin Laden and his family.”

  7. SPEMack

    One of the many reasons I’m getting out as a Captain is because Little Miss Suzy Sunshine JAG lawyer doesn’t much care when you refuse to say anything as she is desperately trying to make a case against one of your Ranger Buddies for sexual harassment, sexual assault, and taking the tags of your mattress.

    And when you make one little legal weenie mad they complain all the way up to the Staff Judge Advocate and then you find yourself trying to explain to the Colonel exactly why you thought calling someone, even a lawyer who is major, a clueless bitch was appropiate.

    11 more days.

    For what it’s worth, I’m gonna call a Fraternity Brother of mine who is the aid to the Hon Sen Isakson.

  8. Kirk

    I have to be honest with you, Hognose–I’m with you on about 90% of what you’re saying here in this post, but I’m not entirely certain that this Lorance character is the hill we want to die on, in order to make this point.

    I heard about this case through the grapevine, and didn’t recognize the actors in your post until I went and read the article. The word I got from a source was that the case against Lorance probably wasn’t fair, in that they didn’t go after him for a shitload of stuff they should have. This young officer was, per my informant, a prototype for the guy you don’t want falling in on your platoon when you’re the platoon sergeant. I don’t know what the realities are in this case, but I think there’s good grounds for caution before saying he’s an innocent victim of an out-of-control system. I know I’d want to hear more from his troops, because the stuff I was hearing, plus the news story you link to make it sound like few of his subordinates wanted to back his story up.

    Could be he is innocent of ill intent; could be he is another young punk in the vein of Calley, and should have never been commissioned. I don’t know which, but I’d exercise caution in defending this guy until more is known.

    1. JHP

      Hognose, this isn’t the one you want to support. I was fucking there. I sat next to him for 6 months, my testimony is part of the official investigation. He deserved what he got and he probably deserved more. Even worse, he didn’t have the balls to do it himself. He had 18 year old gunners kill them. Unarmed, searched, passed through an ANA/US checkpoint. Now a young kid has to live with that. They disbanded that platoon because of him, took away their weapons, treated them like criminals because they obeyed what they thought was a lawful order. He was a PL for 72 hours. Within the first 24 he was counseled for lying to his commander. I was an LNO when this happened and the report that mirning didn’t sound right. We knew it didn’t add up before any investigation. I could go on for a long time but suffice it to say, fuck Lawrence. May he rot for what he’s done.

      1. Clarence Chen

        I do believe you mean “Lorance”. Lawrence is a fairly common first name, so you’re probably insulting at least a million people. ;) Secondly, seems there’s more to the story, as always. Upon further reading, the guy really seems to be quite the bad apple.

      2. Hognose Post author

        Thanks for the on-scene view. There’s a lot of negative stuff about him, now that I look. Funny thing is there seems to be no negativity about him from his previous unit/tour (as an enlisted man, I think this was his first deployment as an O).

        1. Kirk

          Trust me on this one, Hognose–That sort of crap doesn’t just get started one day out of the blue. My bet is that there are a bunch of skeletons buried in this young man’s closet that should have precluded his commissioning. He’s likely like the kid I wanted to hammer for so many violations of the damn standards that it isn’t even funny, but who got sent off to OCS because it was less trouble, and would reflect badly on the unit to stop the whole thing. The fact that he’d likely yell “Racism” probably played a role, as well.

          Character doesn’t change with the rank you pin on–If you’re a scumbag Captain, you were likely a scumbag Lieutenant, and whatever you were before that. I’ve seen a lot of shitty officers, and the majority of them were shitbirds from the beginning, and shitbirds when the dipshits decided to promote them instead of writing them reliefs for cause. I can only think of one guy over the years who was someone I knew as a decent 2LT and later turned into a real piece of work–But, that case was one where he never had a chance to display his character flaws and weaknesses as a 2LT. Under pressure as a Major, he was a POS on two legs. What happened in between, I do not know–Because I didn’t observe him. I was just shocked as hell to see what he did to get ahead at O-4, though. Didn’t do him any good, either–The guy he was toadying up to got relieved for cause, and all his butt-buddies went down with him.

        2. JHP

          I think the main issue at play there is that his highest rank was SGT, so his ability to influence the unit’s actions was probably limited. That and it was an MP unit so no telling what they were tasked with in OIF.
          As for the people being biometrically enrolled, in latr 2009 I had missions as an infantry PL to setup checkpoints on highway 1 and enroll people. That was still in full swing in 2012 when this happened. So the fact that they were in the system is pretty meaningless. If there was no detain category or whatever it was called, you just continued on your merry way. To me, that’s a red herring.

    2. Hognose Post author

      I’m getting more indicators that you may be right and this guy may be squirrelly. So maybe he ought to be commuted, not pardoned.

      1. Kirk

        I’m getting more of the vibe he ought to be buried under Leavenworth, for a long damn time. Commute his sentence? Only if that means he’s going to be released naked in the middle of Afghanistan, in my book. Otherwise, let him do his damn time that the court martial determined he deserved.

        I don’t expect much from my junior officers that the Army sees fit to commission and put above me, but, by God… The sonuvabitch better not be leading my junior enlisted into wrongful actions, either.

        I’m honestly getting the impression this guy was more a Calvin Gibbs, or a Frank Ronghi than anything else. The very worst thing someone can do, in a leadership position like the one he was entrusted with, is betray that trust and use your authority to force your subordinates to commit wrongful acts the way this character did. Gibbs used his influence as an experienced NCO to pervert the system, and lead men under his authority into wrongful conduct that wasn’t just militarily stupid, it was ethically and morally corrupt. Ronghi did the same sort of thing, but was turned in by subordinates who were disgusted by his intimations and suggestions. All three represent an abomination and perversion of what should be the soldier’s ethos.

  9. Texas dude

    The discovery issues are troubling. Quite troubling.

    On the civvie side, discovery has become so serious that defense counsel will often (at least once a month that I am personally aware of), do what I call “discovery trolling.” Lord help you if you don’t supplement the original case with a narrative on the obviously bogus “tip” called in by the “anonymous citizen.” Cases have been lost on that.

    The fact that stringent discovery laws exist is because of corrupt lawyers (sorry dad, uncles; it’s true)…cops don’t really care about potentially exculpatory evidence. Evidence is evidence. We get paid every two weeks the same. Cops (at least around here) don’t hide exculpatory stuff. Or anything. Not our job. Write the report. Move to the next. Courts do what courts do, and no sense losing any sleep over it any way it turns out. Lawyers who hide ANY evidence from the defense deserve whatever they get. And I say that as someone who has a self-interest in seeing criminals locked away, because it is my work, or that of my troops, that starts the process.

    If the the prosecution can’t use what I give them to imprison someone, then it isn’t meant to be and the whole Republic DEMANDS that the suspect walk. We’ll get them next time. Anything less undermines trust in the system, and the whole system works (mostly) because everyone agrees to believe in the rule of law. Start violating that trust on any sort of regular basis, and the whole thing collapses. And if justice and the rule of law collapses, the rest isn’t very far behind…

    I don’t know if this guy is guilty or not. If brothers who were there say he was a POS, then he is. We should take him out and shoot him if he really is a guilty man, though. Leavenworth probably shouldn’t exist (the Disciplinary Barracks or the rest. CPXs there suck).

    On a related note, the last soldier who intervened in the My Lai massacre passed away this week. Far too late, he was awarded the Soldier’s Medal (maybe should have been a higher award; it was initially a Bronze Star Medal, maybe the Soldier’s Medal was wildly appropriate). The liberal media NEVER reported that until some brief mentions as the last helicopter crewman passed. As horrible as that incident was, brave American soldiers (primarily those helicopter crewmen) stopped it and reported it. His name was Larry Colburn. I can’t find his rank; liberal media would never report that, though I think it would be appropriate.

    In my humble opinion, Calley should have been stood up and shot (or maybe while sitting down…I am not picky. Results are what really matters). And maybe some others. There is a grand difference between slaying savages and massacring villagers. On one side is righteous Counter-Insurgency work. Not much further beyond that, but with what should be a clear point of delineation, and you might as well have runes on your collar. If you can’t tell the difference, you probably should be selling furniture in Columbus, Georgia instead of leading an Infantry Platoon…oh wait.

    Once again, thanks for the awesome content and enlightened discussions.

    1. Hognose Post author

      Actually it was jewelry Calley sold. I knew a guy who’d been one of his civilian lawyers. He wanted to write a book about the trial, but Calley would not give him permission.

      1. Al T.

        When I was at Benning, we were specifically told not to go wandering in to jewelry stores to stare at the monkey.

  10. Stephen Fuchs

    As an individual I can do little to advance the cause of First Lieutenant Clint Lorance. But I have e-mailed The White House to respectfully request he be included among the many pardons that have been issued in the same spirit that has recently been shown to others. I did not cloud my comment with allusions to color or couch my request in negative terms whatsoever. It’s my hope that many others will put their personal feelings aside and bombard the office of the president with similar requests that cannot be ignored. We must all give it a try. And if it doesn’t work with Obama we can direct our efforts to Trump as he assumes office. Thanks for spreading the word!

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