In 2010, Major Matt Golsteyn killed a captured Taliban over concerns that the man would escape justice and jeopardise the security of local elders who were supporting the Afghan government and international coalition. He acknowledged the murder in a Fox News interview in 2016. But the case was first brought into the limelight in 2011. At that time, Major Golsteyn was interviewing for a job with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). He had to undergo a polygraph test during the selection and assessment process. It was then that he had first admitted killing the Taliban insurgent. The CIA promptly informed the Army, and an investigation began. Although the Army didn’t have enough evidence to prosecute the Green Beret officer, it decided to issue him a letter of reprimand, which is a career-killer, and to separate him from service.
“It is an inevitable outcome that people who are cooperating with the coalition forces, when identified, will suffer some terrible torture or be killed,” said Major Golsteyn during the Fox News interview.
Now, the Special Forces officer has been recalled to Active Duty and is facing an Article 32 hearing. During such a hearing, a military judge reviews all the available evidence in order to determine if a court-martial is justifiable.
In a tweet, U.S. President Donald Trump vowed to review the case.
“At the request of many, I will be reviewing the case of a ‘U.S. Military hero,’ Major Matt Golsteyn, who is charged with murder. He could face the death penalty from our own government after he admitted to killing a Terrorist bomb maker while overseas.”
The interference of the commander in chief, however, is a legal grey-zone. President Trump, of course, cannot dictate to the military judiciary how to conclude their investigation. The only concrete thing that he could do, however, is to raise awareness, and thus bring pressure to the parties involved to review the circumstances under which the killing took place: Major Golsteyn killed the insurgent in order to protect American and Afghan lives.
The Afghan justice system is infamous for its corruption. On one day Taliban fighters and improvised explosive device (IED) makers are captured by coalition and Afghan National Security (ANS) forces, but the next day they are released because their capture was against the rules of engagement (ROE) or because they know someone in the intricate and corrupt Afghan government.
The Green Beret officer was assigned to the 3rd Special Forces Group. He had received the Silver Star, the nation’s third highest award for valour, for his actions during the Battle of Marjah in 2010. His award, however, was revoked in 2015 due to the murder investigation.