Trump tweets support for Green Beret charged with killing unarmed Afghan man
President Donald Trump weighed in Sunday on the case of a former Green Beret charged with murdering a man while on deployment in Afghanistan in 2010.
“At the request of many,” the president tweeted, “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.”
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. @PeteHegseth @FoxNews
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 16, 2018
It’s unclear who the “many” are, why the president chose to put “U.S. Military hero” in quotes, or if he’s aware that most Americans, even military heroes, can face capital punishment in the United States.
Trump has frequently expressed support for capital punishment in the United States, including its use against drug dealers and other criminals. He has often tweeted his support for “fast trials” followed by the “death penalty” (making one wonder what the purpose of a trial might be). He has also encouraged the death penalty for drug traffickers in China.
But who is Major Matt Golsteyn, and why is the president willing to tweet his support for him just days before taking off for Mar-a-Lago for the holidays?
According to the Army Times, Golsteyn was a captain with the 3rd Special Forces Group. He earned a Silver Star for valor (later upgraded to a Distinguished Service Cross) after locating a sniper who had targeted his troops, helping a wounded Afghan soldier and helping coordinate several airstrikes.
But according to a 2011 report, Golsteyn along with another solider, captured an Afghan man he suspected of being a Taliban bomb maker (taking a tribal leader’s word that this was indeed the case).
Since the man was not a list of targets and had refused to speak to investigators, Golsteyn was ordered to release him under the rules of engagement.
Instead, Golsteyn took the man off base, fatally shot him and buried his remains. He also told interviewers the night of the murder that he and two other soldiers dug up the man’s body and burned it in a pit on their base.
Although Golsteyn’s attorney denies that his client ever confessed to the killing, Golsteyn himself told Fox News in 2016 that he had indeed killed the man. Here’s why he said he did it:
“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.”
In other words, he was worried about the welfare of the tribal leader who had identified the man as a bomb maker.
Golsteyn now seems to deny wrongdoing, saying that he had been misquoted in the Army Criminal Investigation Command (CID) report in 2011.
He told NBC on Thursday night: “They quoted me as saying that me and someone else with me took a detainee to his home and assassinated him. The problem is I never said that. It was a complete lie,” he said.
It seems Golsteyn first confessed to the killing in the course of applying for a job at the CIA.
It has taken eight years and two investigations to get to this point. After the first investigation, Golsteyn was stripped of his Distinguished Service Cross. That investigation was closed, and a second one opened after he spoke to Fox News about killing the man and his reasons for doing so.
However, unlike the man he killed, who was never investigated nor tried, Golsteyn will get due process.
While U.S. servicemen have on occasion been found guilty of such crimes, the odds of Golsteyn getting the death penalty — are slim.
Consider that none of the five men found guilty of rape and murder of 14-year-old Abeer Qassim Hamza, as well as the murder of her parents and younger sister, in Mahmoudiya, Iraq in 2006 were given the death penalty.
Of the five men, four were directly involved in killing Abeer’s family, raping her and setting the lower half of her body on fire. One of the five men was on lookout duty. A sixth was charged in obstructing an investigation.