WASHINGTON — It was 1st Lt. Clint Lorance's first patrol as a platoon leader in Afghanistan, and he set out on foot for a village in a remote section of Kandahar province one morning last July with about 20 soldiers, mostly infantryman.
By the time that patrol returned to its base, two Afghans had been shot off a motorcycle that had approached the patrol and two others were in custody.
The Oklahoma-born Lorance, who had joined the Army the day he turned 18, had given the order to shoot the men on the motorcycle — a decision he would tell his mother later that he would make again if he were in the same situation.
Pending an investigation of the shootings, Lorance was stripped of his leadership, and his weapon was taken away in a combat zone.
He is now at Fort Bragg, N.C., waiting to see whether he will face a court-martial on murder charges. An Article 32 hearing, similar to a grand jury proceeding or preliminary hearing, was conducted at the base in late January.
His mother, Anna Lorance, who lives in the northeastern Texas town of Celeste, said in an interview, “None of this makes sense. I know there's a reason for everything. I don't see the reason for this at all.”
To Anna Lorance, her son was only trying to protect his platoon.
“I feel like if he hadn't made the choice he made that day that him and his soldiers would be brought home in body bags,'' she said in an interview.
The Army doesn't see it that way.
A public affairs officer at Fort Bragg said Lorance has been charged with two counts of murder “arising from his order that two soldiers illegally shoot two Afghan villagers who were riding a motorcycle but showing no indication of hostile act or hostile intent.
“He was also charged with attempted murder for ordering the same soldiers to engage a third individual from the same motorcycle who successfully fled the area without being shot.
“Lorance is also charged with making false official statements, ordering illegal harassing fire into a nearby village, obstructing justice, and for making threats against Afghan villagers through an interpreter.”
According to the spokeswoman, the charges could be modified when the chain of command renders a final decision based on the Article 32 findings.
Lorance's attorney, Guy Womack, of Houston, called the charges “preposterous” and said, “If there's a trial, it will be a fight.”
Womack, a retired Marine officer and former military judge who has worked on hundreds of cases in the military justice system, said all of the circumstances from the scene of that July morning “point to this being some kind of enemy action.”
“Everything these soldiers did was absolutely within the rules of engagement.”
The soldiers who shot at the Afghans saw them approaching the patrol, suspected them of being Taliban fighters because they were on a motorcycle and asked Lorance by radio if they could shoot, Womack said.