‘They do not obey their own rules’

A for­mer cap­tain and Green Beret is de­mand­ing due process from the Army in his mur­der case

The Washington Post Sunday - - POLITICS & THE NATION - BY DAN LAMOTHE [email protected]­post.com

In the largest bat­tle in the his­tory of the U.S. war in Afghanistan, Mathew L. Gol­steyn watched to see if the man he be­lieved was re­spon­si­ble for killing two U.S. Marines was com­ing his way.

Gol­steyn, a cap­tain and Green Beret sol­dier at the time, said he had taken up an am­bush po­si­tion in the Tal­iban strong­hold of Marja when U.S. forces re­leased the man, a sus­pected Tal­iban bomb­maker known as Ra­soul.

What hap­pened next is at the cen­ter of an Army in­ves­ti­ga­tion that has stretched years, re­sult­ing in a mur­der charge against Gol­steyn in De­cem­ber.

Gol­steyn didn’t know whether the sus­pected in­sur­gent, who was un­armed at the time, would walk in his di­rec­tion. But if he did, to Gol­steyn it meant he was go­ing back to in­sur­gent ac­tiv­i­ties and could be legally tar­geted.

“If [he goes] any other di­rec­tion of the 360 that you have avail­able to you but mine, and he doesn’t meet me,” Gol­steyn said. “He had been re­leased, and are you go­ing to go back to what you were do­ing? Or are you go­ing to go some­where else? If it had been me, this guy’s a-- would have beaten feet in a com­pletely dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion.”

The in­ci­dent first came un­der scru­tiny by the Army in Oc­to­ber 2011, the same year Gol­steyn was awarded a Sil­ver Star for valor in dif­fer­ent ac­tions. Gol­steyn said he had planned to join the CIA and go to Iraq in 2012, and in a poly­graph test for the CIA he said he had killed an un­armed man and burned the body.

The case has be­come a cause cele­bre among some con­ser­va­tive and vet­er­ans groups, and it caught the at­ten­tion of Pres­i­dent Trump late last year af­ter Gol­steyn’s wife, Julie, ap­peared on Fox News. In a Dec. 16 tweet, the pres­i­dent pledged to re­view the case “at the re­quest of many” and called Gol­steyn a “a U.S. Mil­i­tary hero.”

The case also has re-en­er­gized long-run­ning ar­gu­ments about how U.S. troops should be­have in com­bat while guided by rules that their en­e­mies of­ten do not fol­low, and how the mil­i­tary should treat a war hero if he is sus­pected of war crimes.

Gol­steyn, 38, has rarely dis­cussed the case in pub­lic, leav­ing it to his wife, his civil­ian at­tor­ney Phillip Stack­house and other sup­port­ers. But in a two-hour in­ter­view with The Wash­ing­ton Post, he de­fended his ac­tions and lam­basted Army in­ves­ti­ga­tors for how they char­ac­ter­ized his ac­tions in of­fi­cial re­ports.

The Army has de­clined to com­ment on how it has han­dled Gol­steyn’s case. A spokesman, Lt. Col. Loren Bymer, said Gol­steyn was charged af­ter new ev­i­dence emerged, and an Ar­ti­cle 32 hear­ing is sched­uled for March 14 at Fort Bragg in North Carolina to as­sess whether the case should pro­ceed to a trial.

Gol­steyn met with The Post in Wash­ing­ton at the head­quar­ters of the In­ter­na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Fire Fight­ers, a union for which Gol­steyn serves as chief of op­er­a­tions. He took the job while pre­par­ing to move on from Army life, set­tling in North­ern Vir­ginia in Au­gust 2016, mar­ry­ing Julie in May 2017 and hav­ing a son with her last year. He also has a 12year-old-son from a pre­vi­ous mar­riage.

In Gol­steyn’s of­fice at work hangs mil­i­tary mem­o­ra­bilia from his ca­reer and a photo of him shak­ing Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush’s hand in 2002 as a new grad­u­ate of the U.S. Mil­i­tary Acad­emy at West Point, N.Y. Gol­steyn de­ployed to Iraq in 2003 and Afghanistan in 2009 af­ter un­der­go­ing heart surgery in 2006 stem­ming from an ac­ci­dent at the Spe­cial Forces Un­der­wa­ter Op­er­a­tions School near Key West, Fla.

In Jan­uary 2010, Gol­steyn was de­ployed to Afghanistan with the 3rd Spe­cial Forces Group. As com­man­der of Op­er­a­tional De­tach­ment Al­pha 3121, he would lead not only his unit but also about 30 Marines and 300 Afghan sol­diers in a ma­jor of­fen­sive against the Tal­iban in­volv­ing a to­tal of 15,000 coali­tion and Afghan troops.

The Bat­tle of Marja would prove to be far more vi­o­lent than other mis­sions.

For days, Gol­steyn and his troops faced hours of gun­fights. Ex­plo­sives laced the city, and he and other ser­vice mem­bers were frus­trated with rules of en­gage­ment that were de­signed to pre­vent civil­ian ca­su­al­ties but limited how ag­gres­sively they could tar­get the Tal­iban.

On Feb. 18, a booby-trapped garage door ex­ploded, killing Sgt. Jeremy McQueary, 27, and Lance Cpl. Larry M. John­son, 19, Ma­rine com­bat en­gi­neers de­ployed along­side Gol­steyn’s unit. Af­ter a search, Afghan forces de­tained a man with bomb­mak­ing ma­te­rial. But Gol­steyn said U.S. forces were told they could not keep any de­tainees be­cause of the amount of re­sources do­ing so would re­quire.

Gol­steyn tar­geted the sus­pected bomb­maker in cir­cum­stances that are still mys­te­ri­ous and cen­tral to the case. With a crim­i­nal charge pend­ing, he de­clined to an­swer some ques­tions, in­clud­ing how long the man had been free be­fore he was killed, whether any­one else was with Gol­steyn at the time and whether he re­ported the killing to any­one after­ward.

Rachel E. VanLand­ing­ham, a mil­i­tary jus­tice ex­pert at South­west­ern Law School in Los An­ge­les, said the specifics of how Gol­steyn tar­geted the man are cen­tral to the case. If Ra­soul showed hos­tile in­tent and Gol­steyn used au­tho­rized tac­tics to tar­get him, it would ap­pear he com­mit­ted no wrong­do­ing, she said. How­ever, if he “was in ac­tu­al­ity ly­ing in wait for this guy,” she said, the sit­u­a­tion is dif­fer­ent.

“In other words, we may have a le­git­i­mate killing based on in­di­vid­ual self-de­fense in re­sponse to con­duct that demon­strates hos­tile in­tent, or we could have pre­med­i­tated mur­der,” said VanLand­ing­ham, who once served as the chief of in­ter­na­tional law for U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand. “Con­text of the am­bush is ev­ery­thing.”

Gol­steyn ac­knowl­edged dis­pos­ing of the man’s body af­ter the shoot­ing and said it was not un­com­mon for U.S. troops to burn re­mains that went un­claimed in the war. In his ear­lier state­ments to the CIA, he said a cou­ple of other sol­diers were in­volved.

The case has been clouded by char­ac­ter­i­za­tions of Gol­steyn’s ac­tions in Army in­ves­tiga­tive re­ports.

An agent with U.S. Crim­i­nal In­ves­ti­ga­tion Com­mand who watched a record­ing of Gol­steyn’s poly­graph test wrote in one early re­port that Gol­steyn told his in­ter­view­ers that he and one other U.S. sol­dier had taken the de­ceased Afghan “back to his res­i­dence and as­sas­si­nated him.” But Army of­fi­cials con­ceded at a 2015 ad­min­is­tra­tive hear­ing known as a Board of In­quiry that Gol­steyn did not say that, Gol­steyn said. The Army de­clined to com­ment.

The Army has de­clined to re­lease the tran­script of Gol­steyn’s job in­ter­view that spawned the in­ves­ti­ga­tion or the 2015 hear­ing. A panel of three of­fi­cers voted 2 to 1 that the ser­vice had not sub­stan­ti­ated that Gol­steyn vi­o­lated the law of armed con­flict, but it found he had demon­strated con­duct un­be­com­ing of an of­fi­cer.

The Army ini­tially closed its in­ves­ti­ga­tion in Novem­ber 2013 with­out find­ing enough ev­i­dence to pros­e­cute Gol­steyn, even when of­fer­ing im­mu­nity to his fel­low sol­diers. It pur­sued a num­ber of ad­min­is­tra­tive pun­ish­ments in­stead, in­clud­ing the sus­pen­sion of his se­cu­rity clear­ance, the re­vo­ca­tion of his Sil­ver Star and Spe­cial Forces tab, and the is­su­ing of a ca­reer-end­ing mem­o­ran­dum of rep­ri­mand.

The Sil­ver Star was awarded in 2011 for re­peat­edly brav­ing en­emy fire on Feb. 20, 2010, two days af­ter the Marines were killed. Gol­steyn was cred­ited with brav­ing fire dur­ing a four-hour bat­tle in which he trudged through mud, re­turned fire, helped an Afghan sol­dier who had been shot and co­or­di­nated airstrikes.

The Army re­opened its in­ves­ti­ga­tion in 2016, af­ter Gol­steyn ap­peared on Fox News and ac­knowl­edged killing a bomb­maker in an in­ter­view with Bret Baier.

Gol­steyn told The Post that he has found the Army’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion dis­hon­est, and he can no longer stay silent about it.

“I spent half of this hell quiet, and if there is any­thing I know, it’s that I will not get any sem­blance of due process — any abil­ity to de­fend my­self — if it’s not in pub­lic,” he said. “Be­cause it’s the only thing these guys re­spond to. They do not obey their own rules.”

SARAH L. VOISIN/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

The de­tails of Mathew L. Gol­steyn’s case, in which he killed a sus­pected bomb­maker in Afghanistan eight years ago, are shrouded in mys­tery and have caught the at­ten­tion of Pres­i­dent Trump.

JAMES ROBIN­SON/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Gol­steyn is con­grat­u­lated fol­low­ing the Valor Awards cer­e­mony in 2013. He has since been stripped of his Sil­ver Star for valor.

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