Whether boldly moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem or defending Western civilization from Warsaw’s Krasinski Square, Donald Trump has an exceptional flair for the dramatic.
Take, for example, Independence Day 2019 at the Lincoln Memorial.
There stood the president, before thousands of red-blooded American patriots gathered before him in a salute to the armed forces. Overhead, the U.S. Navy Blue Angels streaked above the Jefferson Memorial in a final glorious display in the heavens. To the president’s back, just inside the Lincoln Memorial’s great columns, a giant, seated marble sculpture of Abraham Lincoln loomed over Mr. Trump’s shoulder, watching out over the 45th president, the National Mall, the Washington Monument and the U.S. Capitol dome.
Both presidents became the greatest political lightning rods of their respective centuries.
But when Fox News’ Pete Hegseth announced this week that presidential action is imminent for U.S. Army officers Clint Lorance and Matt Golsteyn, the Trump comparisons to Lincoln could not be more obvious. Abraham Lincoln, much like Donald Trump 136 years later, had a special heart for the U.S. military.
Mr. Trump’s promise to wield the constitutional power of presidential relief to right grievous wrongs in the cases of officers Lorance and Golsteyn clearly echoes Lincoln, who, more than any other president in American history, wielded important constitutional powers as commander-in-chief to protect American soldiers. On 64 occasions, Lincoln pardoned soldiers about to be executed. But on hundreds of other occasions, Lincoln went further and simply used his power to disapprove the sentences and findings of courts-martial. Lincoln often defied his generals, who were hell-bent on protecting “the system.”
Here’s the context: Early in the Civil War, the Southern Army, led by Robert E. Lee, often bested the Union Army in battle. Massive Union desertions ensued, followed by execution orders for captured Union deserters.
For example, there was “Lucky” Henry M. Luckett, a soldier who Lincoln didn’t pardon but instead ordered the commander to stand down after Luckett’s court-marital. Mission accomplished. Even Lt. Waller R. Bullock, a captured Confederate officer, benefited when Lincoln stepped in, ordered him paroled and sent him home.
A pardon is a powerful constitutional tool allowing presidents to forgive Americans for crimes committed against the United States.
But a pardon implies guilt. Take, for example, billionaire Marc Rich, convicted of massive income tax evasion and then pardoned by President Clinton after his wife gave more than $1 million to Democratic Party. Marc Rich was guilty as sin.
Clint Lorance isn’t guilty. Not even close. Clint’s not in the category with Marc Rich.
A paratrooper in the famed 82nd Airborne Division, Lt. Lorance took command of his platoon in Afghanistan on July 1, 2012, in the Zhari District, Kandahar Province. On Clint’s first day in command, a Taliban sniper ambushed the platoon while they were on routine foot patrol. Early the next morning, Clint led a combat patrol through thickly-planted minefields.
Thirty minutes into the patrol, three Afghan men sped toward Clint’s platoon on a motorcycle. The Taliban had killed Americans in suicide-by-motorcycle attacks and had most recently ambushed and killed three Ohio National Guardsmen in a motorcycle bombing in Faryab Province.
Clint knew this and had only seconds to act.
To protect American lives, Clint ordered his men to fire, killing two of the riders. Later, biometrics evidence proved that the motorcycle riders were Taliban bombmakers. In other words, Clint’s men killed the enemy.
But to protect President Obama’s suicidal rules of engagement, Army prosecutors hid biometrics evidence from the defense. Clint is guilty of nothing, except being a red-blooded American patriot.
Clint should be exonerated and released from prison. But a military pardon does not wipe out a dishonorable discharge for soldiers pardoned: Clint would have to carry this stain forever.
Which brings us back to Mr. Trump and Lincoln. Lincoln issued presidential pardons 64 times to spare soldiers convicted of military offensives, oftentimes desertion. But on hundreds of other occasions, Lincoln simply stepped in, as commander-in-chief, and wiped out the court-martial altogether, by disapproving the findings and sentence. Mr. Trump should do the same.
Imprisoned at Fort Leavenworth for more than six years, Clint has gotten no pay or benefits in prison. He gave 16 years to our country. A military pardon won’t restore Clint’s back pay and benefits, nor will it remove the stain of a dishonorable discharge. Disapproval of findings and sentence will accomplish all that, and finally right this national wrong.
It is time for action.
Free Clint Lorance.
• Don Brown, a former U.S. Navy JAG officer, is the author of the book “Travesty of Justice: The Shocking Prosecution of Lieutenant Clint Lorance.” He is one of four former JAG officers serving on the Lorance legal team.
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