The Universal Notebook: A soldier's defense

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When I first met my friend Don Snyder in 1978, he was just getting started on the investigation and writing that resulted in “A Soldier’s Disgrace,” a 1987 book about his attempt to exonerate Maj. Ronald Alley, a Bar Harbor native who was a prisoner of war in Korea for three years and then served time in Leavenworth for allegedly collaborating with the enemy.

Don succeeded in getting the Alley case reopened, but the conviction was not overturned.

Last month, Don suddenly rose to the defense of another disgraced soldier, Lt. Clint Lorance, a former member of the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, who was sentenced last summer to 20 years in Leavenworth. Lt. Lorance was court-martialed and found guilty of murder because he ordered troops under his command to fire on suspected Taliban spotters as they approached his patrol on a motorcycle in southern Afghanistan.

Lorance’s mother had e-mailed Don, who was preparing to go off to Ireland, to ask for permission to create a link to “A Soldier’s Disgrace” on the Abandoned Warriors website ( Don possesses a hair-trigger sense of injustice and a tendency to go from zero to 60 instantly, so he immediately dropped everything, read the entire 1,000-page court-martial transcript and boarded a train for Kansas to visit the imprisoned soldier. He also visited Lorance’s mother in Texas before returning to Maine and going on the warpath.

Determined to secure some measure of justice for Clint Lorance, Don has been bombarding media outlets, publishers, military personnel, veterans and just about anyone he thinks might be able to help with e-mails insisting that Lorance is the victim of unreasonable rules of engagement established by President Obama that require soldiers to hold fire unless they have clear evidence of hostile intent.

“No soldier,” Don argues, “should have been court-martialed for the offense of ordering fire upon people he believed would harm his men in a combat zone where it was impossible to tell the enemy from the innocents. Period.”

I agree. As I read the trial transcript and testimony, it seems pretty obvious that the two men shot that day in July 2012 could well have been Taliban spies. A third man with them had explosive residue on his hands. Reconnaissance planes in the area had reported Taliban spotters on motorcycles to Lorance’s platoon. If there was an error made, it certainly was not criminal in nature.

How a U.S. military that is guilty of killing innocent civilians with remote drone strikes could send a patriotic young soldier to prison for 20 years for trying to defend his troops on the frontline is beyond hypocrisy. And why Clint Lorance still holds out hope that he might one day return to active duty in a U.S. Army that has dishonored him so is beyond me.

Too many people have been killed and damaged in a war on terror that is not winnable militarily. At this point, the U.S. military has probably created more terrorists than it has destroyed. To make matters worse, selectively prosecuting and imprisoning a 28-year old soldier for doing his job is unconscionable. At the very least it demands that all men and women of conscience join the 23,000 others who have already signed an online petition demanding freedom and justice for Lt. Clint Lorance.

You can’t ask young Americans to fight a dirty war and then turn your back on them when they get dirty. Support our troops. Free Clint Lorance.

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Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Yarmouth. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.