On July 2, 2012, Clint Lorance led his platoon out on a patrol in Afghanistan’s Zhari District. Little did he know, that day would change things forever. Not just for him, but for everyone in the platoon, including myself.
I was the Weapons Squad Leader, and I was there on that fateful day in 2012. During a routine patrol to help get out the word about a shura (a small meeting between our forces and local villagers), the platoon would eventually see three people on a motorcycle, traveling towards the formation. Lorance’s defense would later argue that it was a split-second decision, but after a few minutes, he ordered a nearby gun truck to open fire. Two would end up dead. It would have devastating effects on U.S. forces in Zhari not just for the duration of that deployment, but for years after.
This story has been covered widely: in the Starz! documentary, “Leavenworth,” by journalists Greg Jaffe and Nathaniel Penn (for the Washington Post and The California Sunday Magazine, respectively) as well as in various military-related newspapers. People know about it.
What people might not know is that Clint Lorance, free after his pardon by then-President Donald Trump in November 2019, graduated from the Appalachian School of Law on May 13. Yes, the very man who was in a courtroom being sentenced to 19 years in prison (later dropped to 18) wants to practice law, and applied for the Oklahoma State Bar Exam, which he plans on taking in July.
Here’s the thing of it-Lorance was never quiet about his intention to pursue law as a vocation. There have been many formerly incarcerated that have followed a similar path: Reginald Betts, who was imprisoned for a carjacking as a minor, would go on to attend Yale Law. Jarret Adams was wrongfully accused of rape and spent 10 years in prison before he was exonerated, after which he went on to attend law school at Loyola in Chicago. Others, knowing they did wrong, pursued the law as a means to make up for their prior mistakes, provide a quality defense for those accused of crimes, and have shown remorse for their past actions.
However, these are things that Lorance has not done, and most likely will not do.
A large part of Lorance’s defense came from a biometrics expert, Bill Carney, who was able to tie the victims to bombs or bombmaking materials through fingerprints that were taken on the spot and entered into ABIS, or the Automated Biometric Identification System. As someone who was in charge of taking biometrics, and overseeing the admission of biometric information into ABIS, the information collected in Afghanistan at that time was spotty at best, largely incomplete, and just outright wrong at the worst of times.
In a piece for the New York Times on Jan. 9, 2021, Pulitzer Prize finalist and author Annie Jacobsen, who wrote a book on this subject titled “First Platoon,” covered the shooting and dove into biometrics, and the faults in those systems. During her research, she would discover that one of the people Lorance’s attorney, John Maher, and Carney, his legal defense’s biometrics expert, claimed built bombs and was killed in the shooting, had been arrested multiple times by U.S. forces after the shooting occurred. Carney admitted during the interview that he had never actually run any of the names through ABIS, he just knew they were bomb makers whose names he got from a disk that he brought home from working as a contractor in Afghanistan.
After the shooting, Lorance confronted me and Staff Sgt. Daniel Williams, who was the sergeant of the guard that day and watched the entire situation unfold through cameras, and asked “What are we going to do about this?” Before we even left the village, I came to find out that he threatened to harm and kill the women and children who had come out to collect the bodies of their dead. Giving orders to shoot unarmed people, threatening women and children, and then asking subordinates to cover it up is pretty damning evidence of a lack of moral fiber. What displays that even more is Lorance’s insistence that he was the victim, his complete lack of remorse, and his failure to take accountability for his actions in Afghanistan.
In a lengthy June 22 Twitter thread, Todd Fitzgerald, my friend and former teammate in the platoon, shared this: “That has stuck with me because he KNEW he killed innocent people…He told us to ‘forget’ we saw their identification. He tried to cover it up and obstruct justice. We deserve better people representing us.”
What sort of example would it set if Lorance was allowed to practice law? A man who asked his subordinates for assistance to cover up his crimes? Someone who, prior to receiving his pardon, asked for relief that was “different” from a pardon because precedent made the accepting of a pardon an admission of guilt?
What would his acceptance into the Oklahoma bar mean to those veterans who served honorably and with integrity? What would it mean to those who might have fallen short, but have accepted their shortcomings, as well as the consequences of their actions? Lorance’s story should be one that inspires others to do better — until that person digs into the details, and witnesses the fluid and manipulative nature of his defense and release. Being an officer in the United States military and an attorney, which is an officer of the court, are privileges. They are not rights, and Lorance has shown that he lacks the moral character and judgment to be either.
We deserved better in 2012, and potential clients deserve better now. Clint Lorance is a free man and should be able to live out his days, hopefully staying within the law and doing whatever it is he enjoys doing. But at no point should he ever again hold a position of power or influence over people. He has shown that he cannot be trusted with that.
Mike McGuinness is a freelance writer and journalist, previously having been published in the War Horse and on Brownsnation.com. He is the host of the upcoming podcast on iHeartMedia “The War Within: The Robert Bales Story.” He currently resides in North Carolina.