Within the largest battle within the historical past of the U.S. warfare in Afghanistan, Mathew L. Golsteyn watched to see if the person he believed was accountable for killing two U.S. Marines was coming his means.
Golsteyn, a captain and Inexperienced Beret soldier on the time, mentioned he had taken up an ambush place within the Taliban stronghold of Marja when U.S. forces launched the person, a suspected Taliban bombmaker referred to as Rasoul.
What occurred subsequent is on the heart of an Military investigation that has stretched years, leading to a homicide cost towards Golsteyn in December.
Golsteyn didn’t know whether or not the suspected rebel, who was unarmed on the time, would stroll in his course. But when he did, to Golsteyn it meant he was going again to rebel actions and might be legally focused.
“If [he goes] some other course of the 360 that you’ve out there to you however mine, and he doesn’t meet me,” Golsteyn mentioned. “He had been launched, and are you going to return to what you have been doing? Or are you going to go some place else? If it had been me, this man’s a– would have overwhelmed toes in a very completely different course.”
The incident first got here beneath scrutiny by the Military in October 2011, the identical yr Golsteyn was awarded a Silver Star for valor in numerous actions. Golsteyn mentioned he had deliberate to affix the CIA and go to Iraq in 2012, and in a polygraph take a look at for the CIA he mentioned he had killed an unarmed man and burned the physique.
The case has develop into a trigger celebre amongst some conservative and veterans teams, and caught the eye of President Trump late final yr after Golsteyn’s spouse, Julie, appeared on Fox Information. In a Dec. 16 tweet, the president pledged to evaluation the case “on the request of many” and referred to as Golsteyn a “a U.S. Navy hero.”
The case additionally has re-energized long-running arguments about how U.S. troops ought to behave in fight whereas guided by guidelines that their enemies typically don’t observe, and the way the navy ought to deal with a warfare hero if he’s suspected of warfare crimes.
Golsteyn, 38, has not often mentioned the case in public, leaving it to his spouse, civilian legal professional Phillip Stackhouse and different supporters. However in a two-hour interview with The Washington Submit, he defended his actions and lambasted Military investigators for a way they characterised his actions in official reviews. Golsteyn mentioned he’s grateful for the president’s consideration and would welcome a pardon however can’t count on it.
“It’s not an insignificant factor dwelling every single day understanding that you just’re an enemy of the state,” mentioned Golsteyn, who was recalled to energetic responsibility as a serious to face the cost. “We’re enjoying for a court-martial. It could be fairly harmful to be enjoying for a pardon, after which there isn’t a pardon and we’ve to go to court-martial.”
The Military has declined to touch upon the way it has dealt with Golsteyn’s case. A spokesman, Lt. Col. Loren Bymer, mentioned Golsteyn was charged after new proof emerged, and an Article 32 listening to is scheduled for March 14 at Fort Bragg in North Carolina to evaluate whether or not the case ought to proceed to a trial.
“As an energetic regulation enforcement matter, the U.S. Military can’t touch upon or launch info associated to the case,” Bymer mentioned.
Golsteyn met with The Submit in Washington on the headquarters of the Worldwide Affiliation of Fireplace Fighters, a union for which Golsteyn serves as chief of operations. He took the job whereas getting ready to maneuver on from Military life, settling in Northern Virginia in August 2016, marrying Julie in Could 2017 and having a son together with her final yr. He additionally has a 12-year-old-son from a earlier marriage.
In Golsteyn’s workplace at work hangs navy memorabilia from his profession and a photograph of him shaking President George W. Bush’s hand in 2002 as a brand new graduate of the U.S. Navy Academy at West Level, N.Y. Golsteyn deployed to Iraq in 2003 and Afghanistan in 2009 after present process coronary heart surgical procedure in 2006 stemming from an accident on the Particular Forces Underwater Operations Faculty close to Key West, Fla.
In January 2010, Golsteyn was deployed to Afghanistan with the third Particular Forces Group. As commander of Operational Detachment Alpha 3121, he would lead not solely his unit but in addition about 30 Marines and 300 Afghan troopers in a serious offensive towards the Taliban involving a complete of 15,000 coalition and Afghan troops.
The Battle of Marja would show to be much more violent than different missions.
For days, Golsteyn and his troops confronted hours of gunfights. Explosives laced the town, and he and different service members have been annoyed with guidelines of engagement that have been designed to forestall civilian casualties however restricted how aggressively they might goal the Taliban.
On Feb. 18, a booby-trapped storage door exploded, killing Sgt. Jeremy McQueary, 27, and Lance Cpl. Larry M. Johnson, 19, Marine fight engineers deployed alongside Golsteyn’s unit. After a search, Afghan forces detained a person with bombmaking materials. However Golsteyn mentioned U.S. forces have been instructed they might not preserve any detainees due to the quantity of sources doing so would require.
Golsteyn focused the suspected bombmaker in circumstances which are nonetheless mysterious and central to the case. With a legal cost pending, he declined to reply some questions, together with how lengthy the person had been free earlier than he was killed, whether or not anybody else was with Golsteyn on the time and whether or not he reported the killing to anybody afterward.
“He in all probability had wherever from between . . .” Golsteyn mentioned of Rasoul, earlier than stopping mid-sentence.
“To be trustworthy, I don’t know as a result of I used to be out [away from the base]. He had a protracted stroll,” Golsteyn continued. “He had a very long time to determine the place he was getting in life.”
Rachel E. VanLandingham, a navy justice knowledgeable at Southwestern Legislation Faculty in Los Angeles, mentioned the specifics of how Golsteyn focused the person are central to the case. If Rasoul confirmed hostile intent and Golsteyn used approved techniques to focus on him, it could seem he dedicated no wrongdoing, she mentioned. Nonetheless, if he “was genuinely mendacity in look ahead to this man,” she mentioned, the state of affairs is completely different.
“In different phrases, we could have a reputable killing based mostly on particular person self-defense in response to conduct that demonstrates hostile intent, or we might have premeditated homicide,” mentioned VanLandingham, who as soon as served because the chief of worldwide regulation for U.S. Central Command. “Context of the ambush is the whole lot.”
Golsteyn acknowledged disposing of the person’s physique after the taking pictures and mentioned it was not unusual for U.S. troops to burn stays that went unclaimed within the warfare. In his earlier statements to the CIA, he mentioned a few different troopers have been concerned.
“We had our bodies in all places from plane fireplace, sitting in swimming pools of water and we needed to, after we got here on the, get rid of them,” Golsteyn mentioned. “There is no such thing as a one to say them. There was illness and pestilence, and on prime of that it’s a supply of booby traps and an enormous hazard to our power.”
The case has been clouded by characterizations of Golsteyn’s actions in Military investigative reviews.
An agent with U.S. Prison Investigation Command who watched a recording of Golsteyn’s polygraph take a look at wrote in a single early report that Golsteyn instructed his interviewers that he and one different U.S. soldier had taken the deceased Afghan “again to his residence and assassinated him.” However Military officers conceded at a 2015 administrative listening to referred to as a Board of Inquiry that Golsteyn didn’t say that, Golsteyn mentioned. The Military declined to remark.
The Military has declined to launch the transcript of Golsteyn’s job interview that spawned the investigation or the 2015 listening to. A panel of three officers voted 2 to 1 that the service had not substantiated that Golsteyn violated the regulation of armed battle, but it surely discovered he had demonstrated conduct unbecoming of an officer.
The Military initially closed its investigation in November 2013 with out discovering sufficient proof to prosecute Golsteyn, even when providing immunity to his fellow troopers. It pursued quite a few administrative punishments as a substitute, together with the suspension of his safety clearance, the revocation of his Silver Star and Particular Forces tab, and the issuing of a career-ending memorandum of reprimand.
The Silver Star was awarded in 2011 for repeatedly braving enemy fireplace on Feb. 20, 2010, two days after the Marines have been killed. Golsteyn was credited with braving fireplace throughout a four-hour battle during which he trudged by means of mud, returned fireplace, helped an Afghan soldier who had been shot and coordinated airstrikes.
The Military reopened its investigation in 2016, after Golsteyn appeared on Fox Information and acknowledged killing a bombmaker in an interview with Bret Baier.
“There’s limits on how lengthy you may maintain guys, Golsteyn mentioned on the time. “You notice shortly that you just make issues worse. It’s an inevitable final result that people who find themselves cooperating with coalition forces, when recognized, will endure some horrible torture or be killed.”
Golsteyn instructed The Submit that he has discovered the Military’s investigation dishonest, and he can not keep silent about it.
“I spent half of this hell quiet, and if there’s something I do know, it’s that I can’t get any semblance of due course of — any skill to defend myself — if it’s not in public,” he mentioned. “As a result of it’s the one factor these guys reply to. They don’t obey their very own guidelines.”