In Brief

Who is Clint Lorance and why has Donald Trump pardoned him?

US soldier released from jail sentence for second-degree murder

Donald Trump has granted a full pardon to Army 1st Lt. Clint Lorance, who in 2013 was found guilty of second-degree murder for ordering his men to fire on three men on a motorcycle in Afghanistan.

“I want to say thank you to President Trump,” said Lorance upon his release after six years behind bars. “And I want the rest of the country to do that, too.”

However, his reprieve has proven controversial.

Who is he?

Born in 1984, in Hobart, Oklahoma, Lorance joined the army on his 18th birthday when he walked into a recruiting station in Greenville, Texas and signed up as a military policeman.

After serving overseas in both South Korea and Iraq, he was deployed to Afghanistan in 2012, where he served as a lieutenant in the 82nd Airborne Division.

What happened?

While serving in Afghanistan, Lorance ordered soldiers under his command to open fire on three unarmed Afghan men on motorcycles.

According to US military news site the Army Times, court records state that one soldier initially fired two shots at the men, missed and watched as the men came to a stop, dismounted their bike and walked towards Lorance’s patrol.

Although Afghani soldiers on the US patrol “gestured for the motorcyclists to leave”, Lorance ordered over the radio for the platoon’s gun truck to engage the Afghan motorcyclists using an M240B machine gun.

Two of the motorcyclists were killed during the ensuing fire.

Why did Trump pardon him?

A White House statement released after the pardoning reiterated comments made by Trump that “when our soldiers have to fight for our country, I want to give them the confidence to fight”.

The statement continued: “The president, as Commander-in-Chief, is ultimately responsible for ensuring that the law is enforced and when appropriate, that mercy is granted.

“For more than two hundred years, presidents have used their authority to offer second chances to deserving individuals, including those in uniform who have served our country.”

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Vox reports that Trump has previously suggested that “soldiers are mistreated in the military justice system”.

The news website adds that “siding with servicepeople regardless of what they’ve been accused of is a politically savvy move that will be appreciated by [Trump's] base”.

Why is the decision controversial?

The case was contentious from the start, with Lorance and his supporters insisting that the Afghani men were in fact enemy combatants.

Writing on Fox News, former US Navy JAG officer Don Brown, who was part of Lorance’s legal team, said: “Lorance could have let the men pass and possibly kill some of his own American soldiers by blowing themselves up with a suicide bomb (as has happened in other cases) or by gunfire. He chose to stop them and save American lives.”

However, as the Army Times reports: “The shooting… earned Lorance few supporters, even within his own platoon. Several of Lorance’s soldiers testified at his court-martial that the riders posed no imminent hostile threat at the time of the shooting.”

That members of Lorance’s own platoon testified against him is highly unusual, according to The New York Times. The newspaper adds that Lorance’s colleagues suggested that he “alienated and outraged his troops [so] that they refused to follow orders and turned him in”.

There are also wider ramifications from Trump’s decision to issue a pardon. The New York Times says that “many in the military, especially in military legal circles, are not celebrating” because the pardons were seen “as a sign of disregard not only for the decisions of military juries, but for the judicial process itself”.

Rachel VanLandingham, a retired US Air Force lieutenant colonel and former judge advocate who now teaches law at Southwestern Law School, described the move as “institutionally harmful”.

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