WASHINGTON – The U.S. Army has partially – and selectively – rejected an appeal to return medals for valor to retired Maj. Mathew Golsteyn, a Special Forces soldier former President Donald Trump pardoned for alleged murder in Afghanistan.
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The decision regarding Golsteyn was reached last June, but was not made public by the Army during Trump’s final months as president. It was revealed in documents just released to USA Today. The Army also refused to honor Golsteyn’s request to restore his Special Forces tab, signifying his service to an elite U.S. military unit.
Golsteyn, a Green Beret, had been charged with killing a suspected bomb maker who, upon questioning in Afghanistan in 2010, had been released. Golsteyn admitted he had killed the man, and a resulting Army probe led to the murder charge against him.
In December 2019, Golsteyn appealed to have his Distinguished Service Cross restored, but to no avail.
Taking up Golsteyn’s cause, as well as that of two other service members accused of war crimes after their stories were reported, Trump pardoned Golsteyn as well as Army 1st Lt. Clint Lorance, and reversed the demotion for Navy SEAL Edward Gallagher. Trump’s unusual involvement in these military justice cases was considered controversial among Pentagon leadership, even leading to Navy Secretary Richard Spencer being fired after he interceded on behalf of Gallagher.
USA Today obtained a copy of the Army review board’s decision on Golsteyn, which revealed that the military panel denied all of his requests. The Justice Department also reportedly released a letter stating that Trump’s pardon did not wipe clean Golsteyn’s record.
The “Presidential pardon is a sign of forgiveness and ‘does not indicate innocence,'” the board wrote, USA Today reported.
For his part, Golsteyn, through his lawyer, criticized the Army for refusing to honor Trump’s promise to expunge Golsteyn’s record, as the president had said repeatedly in a late-2019 phone call that included Vice President Mike Pence.
“Clearly, we have seen military departments obey the direction of the Commander in Chief in other cases and, inexplicably, the Army defied the president,” Golsteyn said, according to USA Today. “It shouldn’t be a surprise the findings of the Army Board were released in November 2020 and not mailed to me for 2 more months, after President Trump left office, so my case could languish in the quagmire of Presidential transition.”
According to Golsteyn’s lawyer, Phillip Stackhouse, President Joe Biden should honor the pardon process and his predecessor’s commitment to Golsteyn.
A captain in the 3rd Special Forces Group-Airborne, Golsteyn said he shot the unarmed Afghan man after he was question about an exploded IED, out of concern for the lives of American troops as well as the family of a local tribal leader.
“Subject advised he elected to terminate the life of the unarmed combatant because he knew that obtaining evidence in order to convict this individual of the detonation would be ‘hard to get,'” according to the report, according to USA Today. Golsteyn and another soldier disposed of the man’s body, Golsteyn admitted.
Golsteyn was subsequently reprimanded by the commander of Special Forces Command, who said, “Your behavior in this matter manifests a complete lack of judgment and responsibility …You have discredited yourself, (Army Special Operations) and the U.S. Army.”
In a tweet in 2019, Trump called Golsteyn a “U.S. military hero.”