Army Reopens Investigation After Special Forces Major Admits In Interview That He Killed Unarmed Suspect in Afghanistan

maj_mathew_golsteyn_silver_starThere is an interesting criminal investigation that seems to fulfill the Washington DC adage “One week on the cover of Time, next week doing time.” The point is that sometimes press is not a good thing. That would seem the case of Special Forces Maj. Matthew Golsteyn who went on Fox News for an interview. In the course of the interview, Golsteyn appears to admit to murdering a suspect in his custody in Afghanistan. Army investigators also watch television and immediately reopened the investigation into the death of the accused Taliban bombmaker.

The controversy highlights how fluid the standards have become in the age of “kill lists” and targeted killings. Golsteyn already admitted to killed the unarmed suspect after a polygraph test. However, the investigation was closed despite the fact that the suspected Taliban member was not on any “kill list.” The suggestion seemed to be that Golsteyn would have been free to kill the man if his name was on the list. Yet, he killed him anyway. The suspect had been captured during the battle of Marja in February 2010.

Since he was not found to be a bomb maker, he was supposed to be released. It is important to note that the rules of engagement err on the side of holding suspects so the ordered release of the man indicated that no hard evidence was found of his guilt. Golsteyn however was not satisfied with those rules of engagement. He was part of 3rd Special Forces Group and said that he was afraid that the suspect would target Afghans who were helping U.S. soldiers. In his interview with Bret Baier he said “There’s limits on how long you can hold guys. You realize quickly that you make things worse. It is an inevitable outcome that people who are cooperating with coalition forces, when identified, will suffer some terrible torture or be killed.” He then said that he decided to simply kill the man.

It is strange that the investigation was closed earlier if, as reported, Golsteyn admitted to killing the unarmed suspect. It is not clear what the new information might be unless Golsteyn suggested other mitigating circumstances that did not appear in his interview.

Golsteyn insisted in the interview that “I made a lawful engagement of a known enemy combatant on the battlefield.” He appears to be drawing a legal technicality that the suspect was not a “detainee” because he was “never processed.” So, he said he made a decision in line with his orders: “We were told that protecting the civilian population was priority number one, even at the cost of our own lives. I did that.” However, this was a man who under standing orders was to be released and was only suspected of being a bomb maker. In his post-polygraph interview, Golsteyn said that “had no qualms” about killing the man “because he couldn’t have lived with himself if (the alleged bombmaker) killed another soldier or marine.” Accordingly, he took the bombmaker off base, shot him and buried his remains.

His later conduct seems to indicate that, if he did not have moral qualms he certainly had legal concerns. He and two other soldiers dug up the remains and burned them in a pit used to dispose of trash. That would seem a conscious effort by all three soldiers to destroy evidence. Moreover, if we allow soldiers to simply kill unarmed people in custody without a charge, how do we know their true motivation? Any soldier can say he feared he was or would be a terrorist. If a soldier can simply ignore standing orders on detainees, when are such orders binding? The point of the rule of law is to preserve not only rules of engagement but good order and discipline in the ranks. Our military has long prided itself on its professionalism and adherence to the rule of law. Once that tradition becomes discretionary, the military becomes a collection of independent contractors or an irregular force. This investigation and trials are conducted by fellow soldiers. They discard neither the realities of the front line nor the obligations of professional soldiers.

Notably, none of the other soldiers would testify against Golsteyn, which might have been used as a rationale for dropping the case. It came be difficult to get in polygraph statements. Now however they have a public interview by Golsteyn himself.

Beyond the criminal procedures, the case highlights the very changed rules that US forces appear to be operating under. Not only was there an assumption that they could kill anyone on one of these kill lists without charge or trial (even if unarmed and in custody) but the suggestion is that the general orders allow for the killing of any unarmed suspect that soldiers deem a potential threat. That would allow for a wide array of extrajudicial killings. Nevertheless, many have rallied behind Golsteyn, including members of Congress.

What do you think?

28 thoughts on “Army Reopens Investigation After Special Forces Major Admits In Interview That He Killed Unarmed Suspect in Afghanistan

  1. ‘Not only was there an assumption that they could kill anyone on one of these kill lists without charge or trial (even if unarmed and in custody) but the suggestion is that the general orders allow for the killing of any unarmed suspect that soldiers deem a potential threat.”

    That appears to be a broad assumption. Clearly, this needs to be thoroughly investigated. If he illegally killed someone in custody, then he should be held accountable. If he felt that his actions saved lives, then he also needs to face the heat and plead his case. Sometimes public opinion can be on his side, depending on the circumstances.

    Soldiers are often under orders to release someone they believe to be a clear and present danger. Case in point is the infamous bacha bazi “boy play” pedophile scandal in Afghanistan, where our soldiers were ordered to ignore the screams of little boys as they were raped by the Afghan military on our base. Two of our soldiers interfered and beat up the rapist, against orders, and were supposed to be discharged from the Army. It was a complete and utter disgrace. It was only after shining the light of public scrutiny and the resultant outrage that these two heroes were allowed to stay in the Army. They almost lost their jobs and the honor of their service because of this policy, ““Generally, allegations of child sexual abuse by Afghan military or police personnel would be a matter of domestic Afghan criminal law.” And since bacha bazi is a common practice in this lovely part of the world, child rape is not prosecuted.

    But, of course, massive immigration from this part of the world is not the existential threat to our safety that Republicans pose. Obviously, cultural mores stop at the border. This crime underscored why those who risked their lives to help us, such as the interpreters, should be given preference to immigrate over and above the general population who believes such behavior is just fine. May I also add that the Maj Golsteyn touched on a problem that needs to become wider known. We have an immigration route for interpreters and others who helped us in Afghanistan, but it’s slow, and it’s running out of spots. Meanwhile, those who risked their lives to become embedded with our troops are in constant danger of torture or death, of their entire families. The Taliban did not take kindly to Afghanis who fought against their extremist regime.

  2. “Beyond the criminal procedures, the case highlights the very changed rules that US forces appear to be operating under.” I don’t think anything has changed very much. Army Special Forces have been training subversives all over the world to do our bidding. Whether it’s a Special Forces officer, a drone, or a cooperative native doing the killing, it’s all the same and a war crime.

    Are we going to be a civilized society or not? Whichever it is – life without parole or a firing squad – makes no difference to me. If we can put Private Manning away for forty, . . .

  3. EXACTLY!! War isn’t “sanatized” like the suits in DC would like for it to be. And I belive the press cause more problems for these guys than do good. One case in point is 1st LT. Michael Behenna… Army Ranger who captured and turned in the Goon that set of an IED and killed several men in Michael’s Platoon. They caught the guy and turned him in, and were told after doing so to “take him home”. During that process they stopped to question the Goon and he went after Michael’s weapon. Lt. Behenna told the truth, forensics proved he told the truth but he was sentenced to 25 years in Leavenworth for “un-premeditated murder”. The forensic expert was denied the chance to testify on Michael’s behalf. This is what happens when the brass are told what to do by the “suits”… who have absolutely no idea what our troops face on the battlefield. Michael became one of what is known as the “Leavenworth 10” as there were 10 military guys at Leavenworth for same or similar “crimes”. After a long series of appeals and a ton of letters, and more, Lt. Behenna was given a 10 year parole. He was of course discharged from the Army. Now there are 9 more at Leavenworth trying to plead their cases as well. Behenna was fortunate if you can call it that since his he had excellent legal support. These other guys don’t have it so good. This story is yet another reason why reporters don’t belong imbedded with out troops. Let’s pray to God that Donald Trump gets wind of this kind of injustice to our guys and pardons them for “un-premeditated murder”. Are we in a war or not? Our guys have to make a phone call to get permission before they are allowed to engage the enemy. The enemy is very much aware of this and they drop their weapons and we’re left with dead troops. Thanks again to the Obama administration for tying the hands of our troops while in the heat of batte. Obama – who never even wore a cub scout uniform!! Counting the days until he’s gone!!! Search the internet for Lt. Michael Behenna and / or the Leavenworth 10. It will make your blood boil if you are a supporter of our Military.

  4. The old gray area again, where intentions meet reality. Why it was either release or kill is the issue. If the guy was captured and the question was whether he was a Taliban or a Taliban bomb maker, why not simply incarcerate him until it is sorted out? There is a missing structure here.

  5. The current commander in chief just gave him his get out of jail free card. He said to question the commander in chief. This guy did. I don’t think the Geneva Convention applies when the other side clearly has not signed it. This is going to make for an interesting case on appeal.

  6. One reason I don’t like to send our people into a combat area is situations like this. They are in a combat environment that is high stress. Then we treat them like they’re cops on the beat and have to come under some sort of revue when they take action. Not a good a place for our military to be in.

  7. During WWII in the Pacific, our troops routinely shot wounded and other Japanese soldiers rather than take prisoners. Standard procedure was a bullet into the head. Often, after defeating a banzai charge, our troops were ordered to fire machine guns into the wounded to kill those that lay on the field. And to kill any survivors, men would walk the field and shoot them in the head. In one situation of which I have personal (but second hand) knowledge: A squad of troopers opened fire on an unarmed Japanese soldier. The body was so riddled with bullet holes that when General Douglas MacArthur came upon the body, he said: “The Air Corps must have gotten this one.” A member of the squad that killed the man yelled out: ” Oh no General. We got him.” MacArthur looked up, smiled and said: “That’s how I like to see them.” That is how wars are won against fanatics. Civilian Americans need to realize it. And I see no difference between killing by drone or by a pistol shot to the head. Give the Major a medal.

  8. When in Rome- do as the Romans do.
    When in the Muddle East- do as the Muddles do.

    Or:

    Trump: Pull out now– like your father should have.

      • OUR professional standards…it’s all that matters. What supposedly makes the US different from any other government or entity is that we are a country ruled by laws. If we use your argument, that we only need to be slightly better morally than our enemies for it to A-OK, then all this talk about rule of law is just that, talk and we are no better than those we are fighting.

        Saying “well, they do it!” is not an acceptable excuse for toddlers let alone grown adults who are part of a professional fighting force that represents and defends the aims, goals, and ideals of our nation.

    • That’s what ISIS does, right ?

      The philosophies of Gandhi & King do not work when facing an adversary like Hitler.

      In the movie ‘Eye in the Sky,’ the question of one little innocent girl’s life in exchange for those that would be save by executing two human bombs before they reach their populated targets, plus the original British or American female being hunted as a terrorist, shows the loops command will jump thru to effect ‘the better good.’ Were they wrong to insist the target home be hit to reduce probability of injury to the innocent little girl to ‘only’ 30% ?or was that ‘a wink and a nod’ calculation?

      Was the greater evil of possibly hundreds of deaths or major injuries from two terrorist’s bomb detonation worth the loss of one innocent life ?

  9. He may pay dearly, but I’ll bet there are others including families who are alive today because the guy is dead. So how is releasing Gitmo guys working out for us? The dead guy would have immediately gone back, and the relatives of the next victims would blame whom?

  10. Do me a favor before you pass judgement on this guy. Listen to him tell the story himself, in his own words and voice.

    Then tell me this guy is not a stone cold scum bag murdering felon.

    The military code specifically describes the intentional killing of a person in custody as felony murder. If you give this guy a pass, you got nothing to say to ISIS killing American soldiers in custody, every single one of them.

    Arguing about how the felony murder is administered is pure horse manure.

    “Pure motives” my behind! This murderer apparently complained about his captive would be set free to kill (again, though we have no way of knowing if this is true, just trust him). He blames the terms of his mission and the terms of combat, which is says are wrong.

    The terms of combat are what ever the imbecile/felon Obama says they are. If you agree w/persons in the military deciding on their own what are the terms of combat, you invite anarchy, and if they turn on you and kill you, you asked for it.

    • And if you could do better under those circumstances, then enlist and show the world that we really aren’t all scumbags.

      Of course the world will bitch and complain, but when the chips are down, you will have only your ‘wingman,’ your buddy there to back you up.

      In those circumstances, you develop a 6th sense about your adversary, that is seldom subject to later legal proof. And I suspect most special ops types, in private, will confirm this. I distinguish this from the view of ‘kill me all — let God sort them out,’ though if it’s a question of the lives of my men in combat, or potential and likely adversaries, I promised only to my men to bring them home alive if at all possible. My adversary has likely made the same promise to his (or her) men (and women.)

      • What the adversary does isn’t a justification.

        He should be court-martialed and finish his life in Leavenworth for disgracing the Army.

        Oh, and I have enlisted. 28 1/2 years in uniform and counting.

  11. Goldstein should be released, plead out to a misdemeanor, or separated from active duty. Even if he acted incorrectly, his motives were pure, which is more than we can say in ISIS executions.

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