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?”