War Criminal’s Bid to Become Lawyer Faces Obstacle: His Own Troops

Donald Trump pardoned Clint Lorance, a former Army officer convicted of murdering innocent civilians in Afghanistan.

A joint patrol between soldiers from the 1st Platoon, 1-64 Armored Batallion of the US Army,  operating under NATO command, walks through Morghan-Khecha village in Daman district, Kandahar province on September 8, 2012.  Afghanistan's first vice president on September 8 warned deteriorating security could jeopardize transparent elections in 2014 as Kabul prepares to take over from NATO troops.  President Hamid Karzai, who has been the only elected head of state in Afghanistan since the 2001 US-led invasion brought down the Taliban, is due to stand down in 2014. His re-election in 2009 was accompanied by widespread fraud and the international community sees the next vote as one of the last major hurdles before NATO combat troops withdraw at the end of 2014. AFP PHOTO/Tony KARUMBA (Photo by TONY KARUMBA / AFP) (Photo by TONY KARUMBA/AFP via Getty Images)
U.S. Army soldiers patrol a village in Kandahar province in Afghanistan on Sept. 8, 2012. Photo: Tony Karumba/AFP via Getty Images

Clint Lorance, a former Army lieutenant convicted of second-degree murder for war crimes in Afghanistan, was one beneficiary of the many pardons issued to convicted war criminals by former President Donald Trump.

Lorance, who won his pardon following an advocacy campaign by conservative activists and Republican politicians, left prison in 2019 thanks to Trump. Since then, he has by all accounts moved on with his life. He has written two books: one on his experience being charged with war crimes and another offering tips for millennial conservative activists on how to ensure that the U.S. will “always lead the world in everything.”

In his latest post-murder move, Lorance is working to become a lawyer. After graduating from Appalachia School of Law this May, he is now also reportedly sitting the Oklahoma bar exam and applying to practice law in the state.

The idea of a convicted war criminal being tasked with interpreting and upholding the law in the U.S. has rankled a few — most notably Lorance’s former military comrades. It was the men in his unit who turned him in after witnessing his murder of two innocent Afghan villagers, Haji Mohammed Aslam and Ghamai Abdul Haq. They testified against him at his court-martial.

Now, one of the men from his unit is making his objections official. In response to the news that Lorance would sit the bar exam, Todd Fitzgerald issued a letter to the Oklahoma Bar Association calling on his one-time commander to be denied certification to practice law in the state.

Fitzgerald, a former Army soldier who served with Lorance in the 82nd Airborne Division in Kandahar and witnessed his crimes, sent his letter late last month. The missive outlined a series of events that he and his fellow soldiers witnessed during the period they were briefly under Lorance’s volatile command — for all of three days — before he murdered the two civilians.

“His actions during the three days he was in charge of our platoon were deliberate and he repeatedly displayed an astonishing lack of candor so egregious that resulted in his being reported, detained, and eventually convicted and sentenced based on the testimony of myself and many other eyewitnesses,” Fitzgerald wrote in his letter to the bar. (Neither Lorance nor the Oklahoma Bar responded to requests for comment.)

Over the span of those three short days, Fitzgerald wrote, after Lorance was sent to their outpost, soldiers witnessed him pointing a gun in the face of an elderly Afghan man while counting down in preparation to kill him, directing random fire into a village, ordering his reluctant troops to open fire and kill two unarmed men on a motorcycle, and then threatening to kill the crying women and children from the village who came to collect the dead men’s bodies afterwards.

In his letter, Fitzgerald said that Lorance had “acted cruelly and inhumanely, without provocation, and to the detriment of innocent lives as well as the safety of everyone else around.” The letter accuses Lorance of creating a false narrative in his defense that the men he had ordered killed, villagers known to U.S. troops, had been supporters of the Taliban, while characterizing himself as a victim of a politicized military justice system. The killings of the two men, Fitzgerald said, not only devastated the residents of the nearby village but also destroyed efforts by the U.S. military to cooperate with them against the Taliban.

“He has since refused to acknowledge any responsibility for his own actions.”

“He has since refused to acknowledge any responsibility for his own actions,” Fitzgerald added in his letter, “instead making a point to say that he takes responsibility for our actions as if he were protecting us when the truth is that he endangered all of our lives by causing the deaths of people who had been previously helping us and destroying the relationship we had built up with the local nationals.”

Fitzgerald is not the only one from Lorance’s platoon who had this sentiment about their former commanding officer. In the wake of his pardon, a number of them came forward to describe their reactions, with one describing it as a “nightmare.” While Lorance has become a cause célèbre on segments of the right, with Trump even bringing him and other pardoned war criminals on stage with him at public events, the soldiers who served under Lorance’s command and witnessed his actions while on duty have suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, alcoholism, suicide, and drug abuse since leaving the military.

In an op-ed for the Army Times published last month, another soldier who served under Lorance in Afghanistan, Mike McGuinness, also called for the Oklahoma bar to deny Lorance’s bid to practice law. McGuinness described Lorance as morally unfit to be entrusted with upholding or interpreting the law in any circumstance.

“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,” McGuinness wrote. “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.”

RAEFORD , NC - MAY 6: Mike McGuinness at home in Raeford, North Carolina on May 6, 2020. McGuinness was Staff Sargeant in the platoon that was serving under Clint Lorance. McGuinness said: "You don't go into the military thinking you are going to be part of a war crimes case." (Photo by Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Mike McGuinness at home in Raeford, N.C., on May 6, 2020. McGuinness was staff sargeant in the platoon that was serving under Clint Lorance.

Photo: Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Trump Pardons

Lorance had initially been sentenced to 19 years in prison following his 2013 court-martial on murder charges. He was released from prison in 2019, following a successful campaign by conservative activists and commentators — including Fox News hosts Sean Hannity and Pete Hegseth, as well as current and former GOP politicians Duncan Hunter, Paul Gosar, and Adam Kinzinger — to lobby Trump for his pardon.


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Lorance’s pardon — and subsequent self-reinvention as a conservative activist, author, and would-be lawyer — was only one consequence of Trump’s embrace of convicted war criminals during his time in office. In addition to Lorance, Trump pardoned a group of Blackwater mercenaries convicted of a notorious massacre in Iraq, former Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher, and a host of other soldiers convicted by military courts of murdering civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan. These pardons were often issued over the objections of U.S. military lawyers, senior military commanders, and other Pentagon officials, who criticized the moves as undermining military discipline and harming the reputation of the armed forces.

Today, Lorance’s LinkedIn page describes himself as a “military justice reform advocate” as well as “Iraq & Afghanistan veteran & author.” The page says he completed his degree at Appalachian School of Law in May of this year. It’s unclear whether the outcry from other veterans who served with him will be enough to stop Lorance from practicing law in Oklahoma, particularly given his support from a range of powerful conservative politicians who advocated for his pardon. Despite his unpopularity with the troops he commanded, he remains a celebrated figure on the Republican right, who have characterized their defense of Lorance as an act of loyalty to U.S. service members.

“This is a plea of conscience, for the men who were killed unjustly and are not here to advocate for themselves.”

Yet the celebration of a war criminal, convicted by the military’s own court system, coupled with the neglect of those who served under him and tried to do the right thing has left a painful memory for Fitzgerald and others who spoke out against Lorance. In his letter to the Oklahoma bar, Fitzgerald called for the institution to take a moral stand against Lorance by refusing him admission in light of the grave crimes for which he had been convicted.

“It is my utmost respect for the rule of law and the institutions that uphold these laws that drives me to send this communication. It has been a terrible experience and a moral injury to live through the murders of two innocent men. It would be a much greater injustice to say nothing while the person responsible takes no accountability and attempts to exert influence over the lives of others in any position of authority or control again,” wrote Fitzgerald. “This is a plea of conscience, for the men who were killed unjustly and are not here to advocate for themselves, for their families, and for all of the other surviving witnesses that live with the weight of this burden on their hearts and souls.”

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