Maj. Mathew Golsteyn has been forced back into active duty, his beard shaved, his civilian job in jeopardy.
The Army once named him one of its most heroic soldiers in Afghanistan and awarded him a Silver Star. On Dec. 12, the Army called him a murderer for killing “Rasoul,” a known Taliban bomb-maker, nearly a decade ago.
Phillip Stackhouse has been the former Green Beret’s attorney in his on-and-off ride through the military justice system. He told The Washington Times that he has seen no new evidence since the Army reopened its investigation of Maj. Golsteyn in the fall of 2016.
“Based upon my review of all the evidence that was given to me back in 2015 and our own independent investigation, there’s no new evidence,” said Mr. Stackhouse, a former Marine Corps defense lawyer.
A charge sheet presented to Maj. Golsteyn on Dec. 12 and obtained by The Times states that the officer “did, at or near Forward Operating Base McQuery, Marjah, Afghanistan, on or about 22 February, 2010, with premeditation, murder a male of apparent Afghan descent known as Rasoul by means of shooting him with a firearm.”
The sudden murder charge has turned Maj. Golsteyn into an American cause celebre: His wife and parents have made TV appearances to denounce the Army. President Trump tweeted a pledge to review his case.
The Army made the allegation amid a new campaign by U.S. Special Operations Command, which oversees all commando units, to review ethics standards, The Times reported Monday. It’s a reaction to a rash of drug raids, detainee abuse and killings.
Maj. Golsteyn, 38, graduated from West Point in 2002 on the front end of America’s longest war. After infantry and then Special Forces qualifications, he found himself, as a team captain, engaged in intense daily patrols and killings around Marjah, west of Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban.
On the Feb. 22, 2010 excursion, his joint Marine-Army unit detained a bomb-making terrorist who intelligence showed was responsible for the deaths of at least two Americans.
Rasoul had no gun or bomb-making materials on him. Under the rules of engagement, the forward base had to release him.
Maj. Golsteyn decided the Taliban would not kill again. He viewed Rasoul as a combatant ready to make his next improvised explosive device, the top killer of U.S. troops. He set up an ambush. A shot was fired. The team burned the body.
There were no recriminations until Maj. Golsteyn applied in 2011 for a CIA job. During a polygraph, he admitted to the killing. The CIA notified the Army.
Here is what he told the polygraph examiner, according to a transcript obtained by The Times: “We had an IED mark that killed two of my Marines. I caught him and shot him. … The responsibility is mine. … We caught him on site with components. … [His release] would have resulted in the death of more of my guys.
“There’s hundreds of dudes that are caught all the time. We caught probably close to that number and released every one of them because there’s no point in it. Just stop taking detainees. You know, I could have a guy that standing, you know, a nice guy with a family standing against a wall pointing, like, you know, just peeking out and, like, that guy cut off heads there weeks ago. He’s a Taliban tax collector, and this is what he’s doing.
“But I can’t do anything about that. With this guy in particular, with the IEDs as they were, he was a combatant and was going to go right back to continuing being a combatant. … So by the letter of the law, I’m wrong, but he never stopped being a combatant.”
CIA: Yeah, I’m good with that.
Golsteyn: As to me, he never stopped being a combatant.
CIA: Because as soon as you would have let him go, he’d of went and built himself another bomb.
‘In the face of the enemy’
In 2015, the Army opened a board of inquiry at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, home of the service’s Special Operations Command, which ultimately brought the murder charge.
The CIA didn’t provide testimony, just the transcript. No team member, including the sergeant with Maj. Golsteyn that day, offered incriminating evidence Mr. Stackhouse said.
The board recommended no criminal charges. Three officers found him guilty of conduct unbecoming an officer and suggested a general discharge under honorable conditions, which allowed him to keep his benefits.
Then-Army Secretary John M. McHugh stripped the major of his pending Silver Star, the military’s third-highest award.
In that engagement on Feb. 10, 2010, against entrenched Taliban fighters, the citation says, the Green Beret officer led a force of 80 Americans and Afghans as he “heroically distinguished himself by exceptionally valorous conduct in the face of the enemy.”
“Captain Golsteyn repeatedly exposed himself to direct and accurate enemy fire during a four-hour engagement in which his calm demeanor, decisive actions and fearlessness in the face of the enemy ultimately led to the liberation of the citizens of Marjah from an oppressive insurgent regime,” the citation states.
Bruised but not out, Maj. Golsteyn remarried, took a senior post in Washington with the International Association of Fire Fighters and welcomed a baby boy.
“His life was moving on,” Mr. Stackhouse said.
Maj. Golsteyn agreed in October 2016 to sit down with Fox News anchor Bret Baier for a special on warfighting. The officer was highly critical of tactics in Afghanistan. When asked whether he killed the bomb-maker, he said “yes.”
The answer apparently triggered Army Criminal Investigation Command to reopen the case.
Mr. Stackhouse said Maj. Golsteyn’s CIA and Fox News interviews dovetail, begging the question why the investigation started up again.
“I’m going to be asking all the questions about reopening the investigation. Who authorized it? What prompted it?” the attorney said.
Maj. Golsteyn has always said he viewed Rasoul as a combatant whom he killed, not murdered.
“The Taliban was a detainee at one point,” Mr. Stackhouse said. “He was released. And at a short time later there was an ambush on a road in southern Afghanistan, and Matt participated in that ambush and that bomb-maker was killed.
“When that guy was released from the combat outpost, he could have went anywhere in the world. The combat outpost was at a crossroads. He could have went in any direction. And where he went was the area where he was conducting his operations,” the attorney said.
‘They just lied to him’
Maj. Golsteyn’s regimental commander testified that he would have ordered the shot.
A “fact sheet” prepared by the office of Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican, said: “The bomb maker was also maneuvering back to a location where bomb components were stored — and there was agreement that this is no different than reaching for an AK-47 or progressing to any weapon, for that matter.”
After the Army reopened the case in December 2016, Mr. Hunter, in protest, cited the words of incoming Defense Secretary James Mattis.
“Major Matt Golsteyn is an American hero, and his experience calls to attention another hero, retired General James Mattis and something he said: ‘There are some assholes in the world that just need to be shot.’ I know you agree that a known Afghan bomb-maker with the blood of American service members on his hands fits into that category,” Mr. Hunter said in a letter to then-Army Secretary Eric Fanning and Gen. Mark A. Milley, Army chief of staff.
Mr. Stackhouse contends that the investigation went off track early on. An Army investigator viewed the lie detector video. The agent concluded that Maj. Golsteyn took the Taliban fighter to his home base for bomb-making and executed him there.
“Matt never said that,” Mr. Stackhouse said.
At the board of inquiry, he said, a new agent on the case agreed that the first conclusion was wrong.
The major now is stationed at Fort Bragg. The next move is an Article 32 hearing in which a presiding officer will hear the evidence and make a recommendation up the chain of command. The presiding officer could propose dismissal on one end of the justice scale or, at worst, a court-martial.
After Thanksgiving, the Army ordered Maj. Golsteyn back to active duty and summoned him to Fort Bragg but gave him no heads-up. Mr. Stackhouse said his client thought it might be to finally discharge him or award him medical retirement.
“Instead, he had a discussion with his commanding officer on a Tuesday,” Mr. Stackhouse said. “The officer said, ‘Look, I don’t know what’s happening. I know the investigation is closed. You’ll know very soon.’ On Wednesday, he handed him murder charges that he had signed off on the day before. The whole thing was a kick in the teeth. … They just lied to him.”
The Golsteyn family is counting on Mr. Trump, who tweeted: “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.”
In another excerpt from his CIA interview, Maj. Golsteyn said: “So I’ve got a guy in the battlefield that I know is already responsible for the deaths of two, the making of countless IEDs, and whatever he’s committed before, he’s an open threat to the tribal leader in a very fragile process for us of getting some kind of popular support that allows us to get done what we want to get done. And he is a demonstrated threat to my guys. He’s — is a combatant, was a combatant when we picked him up and was going to continue to be a combatant. We were fighting. We were under attack at that point in time for six to eight hours a day.”
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