Trump says he’ll review case of former Special Forces officer facing murder charge
By DAN LAMOTHE | The Washington Post | Published: December 16, 2018
President Donald Trump tweeted Sunday that he will review the case of a former Special Forces officer and Afghanistan war veteran who was notified last week that he will face a murder charge in the death of a detainee suspected of being a Taliban bombmaker.
Former Army Maj. Mathew L. Golsteyn was notified Thursday by the Army that he will face one charge of murder, his attorney and the Army said. The military has been investigating him since 2011, when Army officials said he confessed during a polygraph test as part of a CIA job interview to killing the suspected bombmaker in February 2010.
“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,” Trump tweeted. “He could face the death penalty from our own government after he admitted to killing a Terrorist bomb maker while overseas.”
It wasn’t clear Sunday what Trump’s “review” could comprise or whether he is considering pardoning Golsteyn if the Army convicts him of murder. The case is still under investigation, with a hearing expected next year to review evidence in the case.
Trump’s statement alone could complicate the military’s prosecution of Golsteyn. The president, as commander in chief, is expected in the military justice system to not make statements that could influence open cases. Doing so is considered unlawful command influence and can cause cases to be thrown out.
Golsteyn’s attorney, Phillip Stackhouse, has disputed that Golsteyn’s statement to the CIA was characterized accurately by the Army. He and Golsteyn could not immediately be reached for comment Sunday.
The service dropped its investigation in 2014 but reopened it in 2016 after Golsteyn said during a Fox News interview that he had killed a bombmaker who had been held as a detainee for fear that he would target Afghans helping U.S. troops if he were let go.
Golsteyn, a 2002 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., was lauded for his performance in Afghanistan as the commander of a team from 3rd Special Forces Group in the Battle of Marja. About 15,000 coalition troops fought to take back a poppy-laden section of Helmand province that was controlled by the Taliban and laced with explosives.
On Feb. 20, 2010, Golsteyn coordinated numerous airstrikes and repeatedly braved enemy fire after launching a mission to kill a Taliban sniper who nearly hit a nearby Marine, according to a military summary of his actions. He later was awarded the Silver Star for valor, and the Army was considering upgrading the award to the Distinguished Service Cross — one step down from the Medal of Honor — when the allegations against Golsteyn emerged.
The accusations center on actions that occurred two days earlier. Two Marines — Sgt. Jeremy McQueary, 27, and Lance Cpl. Larry Johnson, 19 — were killed and others were wounded by a garage door booby-trapped with explosives, prompting a search of nearby homes in which Golsteyn’s unit found bombmaking materials and a suspected bombmaker, according to the results of an investigation released to The Washington Post through the Freedom of Information Act in 2015.
Golsteyn later recounted during his CIA job interview that the U.S. troops detained the man and brought him back to their base. While detained, the suspected bombmaker unexpectedly crossed paths with an Afghan tribal leader with whom Golsteyn’s team was working. When the leader expressed fear for his life, Golsteyn said, he grew concerned about the consequences of letting the suspected bombmaker go, according to Army documents.
“CPT Golsteyn stated he had no qualms about what he did because he couldn’t have lived with himself if [the suspected bombmaker] killed another Soldier or Marine,” an Army investigator’s summary of Golsteyn’s polygraph test said.
The Army dropped Golsteyn from the Special Forces in 2015 and stripped him of the Silver Star but ultimately dropped the criminal investigation against him and let him leave the service with military benefits. The service accused him in a June 2015 administrative hearing of violating the law of armed conflict, but a panel of officers determined that was unsubstantiated. It instead recommended separating him from the military for conduct unbecoming an officer with a general discharge under honorable conditions.
Golsteyn has enjoyed support from several influential figures, including Medal of Honor recipient William D. Swenson and retired Marine Lt. Gen. Lawrence Nicholson. Both of them appeared at his administrative hearing in 2015.