Split-second decisions are a given in a time of war. Military members--from top-ranking generals to platoon leaders to brand-new soldiers--are trained extensively on how to react to myriad scenarios with precision and logic.
In July 2012, that training became a horrific reality for Army First Lieutenant Clint Lorance while on a dismounted foot patrol with his squad in southern Afghanistan. Newly appointed as a Platoon Leader (his immediate predecessor had been gravely wounded in action), 1st Lt. Lorance led his troops into known Taliban-infested territory. Their aerial surveillance support warned of enemy personnel nearby.
While crossing a barricaded road designated only for military and police use, his platoon encountered a dreaded--and possibly deadly--threat: Three men on a motorcycle speeding directly towards them. Not only were the men driving on a prohibited road, but they ignored the platoon's verbal shouts and hand signals commanding them to stop. They also fit the description of the enemy personnel as described by the overhead surveillance team. Fearing an impending ambush and/or vehicle-borne improvised explosive device, either of which could have resulted in the loss of additional men (his unit had already lost four soldiers), Lorance commanded his gunners to open fire on the motorcycle. The first shots missed the riders. The three Afghan men on the motorcycle roared through the platoon formation, then came to a halt nearby. All three dismounted and began walking aggressively towards Lorance's troops, still ignoring commands to stop.
Not knowing whether the men might be armed with traditional weapons and/or suicide vests, he again gave permission to his men to open fire, resulting in the death of two of the Afghans. The third ran away but was found and detained later that day. His hands tested positive for homemade bomb-making materials residue, lending to the suspicion that he and his cohorts were preparing for an attack against American soldiers. Another local Afghan quickly retrieved the motorcycle from the scene and rode away on it before it could be collected as evidence or assessed for explosives.
Although this same scenario has played itself out countless times during U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, this one concluded with Lorance being convicted on two charges of murder for the deaths of the Afghan men on the motorcycle. According to news reports, prosecutors argued that Lorance ordered his men to open fire immediately, which violated the military's rules of engagement (ROE) that requires soldiers to hold fire unless they have evidence of hostile action or hostile intent.
Despite this evidence playing into
his murder convictions, Lorance was found not guilty of violating the ROE,
which appears contradictory. He is currently serving a 19-year sentence at Ft.
For many days, since 1LT Lorance's appeal for clemency was denied, I have thought about what I could write that would make any kind of impact. I am a writer, albeit an amateur one. I am also a devoted Army veteran. I do not know 1LT Lorance personally, but I feel as if I do. For months, we have communicated via hand-written letters; he from a military prison in Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas; me, from my home in Colorado. He signs his letters "Clint", but I struggle to call him by his first name. Too many years of addressing Army officers by their rank and last name have stuck with me. Although the Army has stripped him of his rank, I refuse to let it go. 1st LT Lorance and I have never seen each other in person, nor did we technically serve together.
We did serve together, however. We were both active-duty soldiers, serving our great nation during the same time, occasionally in the same country. We both served tours in South Korea and we both deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. We both saw the effects of war, not only on citizens from the war-torn countries, but on our fellow soldiers. We both voluntarily put our lives on the line, to protect the Constitution and freedoms of the United States, as well as to honor the commitment we made to the military. No one forced us to join; there was no draft. We each made a calculated decision to serve, to leave our loved ones and our homeland, and to make every attempt to prevent another 9/11-style attack on our country's citizens.
I deployed to Iraq from 2004-2005, a couple of the most volatile years in the country. I traveled outside the protection of a military base every day I was there. I witnessed the atrocities of the "enemy"--those who chose to dress themselves not in a typical enemy uniform, but rather elected to dress like civilians, drive civilian vehicles and use innocent civilians as cover. These innocent civilians were also used as weapons; unknowingly placed in vehicles rigged to explode; handicapped children whose wheelchairs were laced with explosives and women who felt they had no other future, other than to detonate an explosive vest they wore. Our adversary was non-traditional, to say the least. As a result, and to the "enemy's" advantage, everyone was considered a threat.
I analogize my experiences in Iraq to the one 1st LT Lorance experienced in Afghanistan. The one that ultimately led to his conviction and incarceration, and which includes a 20-year sentence at Ft. Leavenworth. Countless times in Iraq, I had mere seconds to decide whether to pull the trigger on my Sig Sauer pistol or my M4: An Iraqi vehicle came way too close for comfort; my colleague and I got trapped in an unannounced parade on the streets of Baghdad; I was hit by another vehicle and was involved in a rollover "accident"; I volunteered to retrieve one of our clandestine sources from the gate, on foot, with no back-up. Whatever the situation, I knew the dangers and risks. I also relied on my strict military training, trusted my instincts, and knew my commander would back up the decisions I made. Never once did I question the decision to pull a trigger, based on the possible ramifications that I might be accused and/or convicted of murder.
I guarantee countless other soldiers encountered extremely similar situations to the one 1st LT Lorance was faced with in Afghanistan. None of these other soldiers were ever accused or convicted of murder. 1st LT Lorance made a split-second decision, which likely resulted in the saving of his soldiers' lives. No one can predict what would have happened had he not allowed his soldiers to open fire on the three men speeding towards his platoon on a motorcycle. Based on the facts discovered after the incident, 1st LT Lorance would have likely had the death and/or serious injuries of his platoon members on his hands. The three local men, who disregarded posted signs to avoid the road they were on, ignored hand and arm signals from 1st LT Lorance's platoon members to stop, were confirmed as Taliban members, and at least one of whom tested positive for explosive residue, could have easily detonated an IED hidden on the motorcycle and/or opened fire with concealed weapons. If the latter scenario had occurred, would 1st LT Lorance now be a hero? Maybe in the eyes of some. However, he would have had a completely different type of prison to live in for the rest of his life. The prison of his own mind, wondering, every day, if he should have made a different decision. The decision he did make that day renders him a hero.
1st LT Lorance has no regrets about the decision he made on July 2, 2012, in Afghanistan. He takes full responsibility for the actions of his men. Even though he never pulled the trigger of a weapon that day, he is the only one incarcerated for the death of two Taliban members.
The common-sense factor is lacking in this case. 1st LT Lorance did not purposely seek out and murder innocent civilians. He did not sneak off base, abandon his platoon members under the cover of darkness and take side with the enemy. He did not rape and pillage innocent women and children. He did not open fire and kill his own fellow military members. He simply made the decision he thought prudent, in a time of war, and in the best interests of his platoon members. I know I would have made the exact same decision he did and I believe a majority of other Army soldiers would have too. I also would have paid the same consequences as he, with the peace of mind that all of my platoon members returned home safely to their loved ones. True leaders have the safety of their subordinates in mind at all times and will go to all lengths to protect them.
1st LT Lorance has one last chance for freedom. There is currently a petition circulating, requesting that President Obama review his case and consider granting him a pardon. The response has been overwhelming and the petition has received the required 100,000 signatures. However, without assistance from government officials, and other military veterans, the outlook may be dismal. 1st LT Lorance is a dedicated soldier who deserves the post-war re-integration many other military members were afforded. He served our country with dignity and honor. He performed the duties he swore to uphold when he took his military oath upon enlisting in the Army.
I ask you to please help circulate this petition and pressure our government officials to review 1st LT Lorance's case.
The petition for 1st LT Lorance can be viewed and signed here: