Panel urges ex-Green Beret hero out of Army with VA benefits

AP News
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Posted: Jun 29, 2015 3:30 PM

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — An Army officer who was accused of tracking down and killing an unarmed bomb-making suspect in Afghanistan is being recommended for an honorable discharge even though a military panel that looked into the case determined his conduct was unbecoming an officer.

The military panel at Fort Bragg reached the finding late Sunday concerning Maj. Mathew Golsteyn. Army Special Forces Command spokeswoman Maj. Allison Aguilar said Monday that if the decision is upheld by a review board Golsteyn would be discharged under honorable conditions allowing him to keep nearly all veteran's benefits.

Golsteyn's Colorado-based defense lawyer, Phillip Stackhouse, said the panel didn't describe which conduct it found unbecoming an officer.

"Therefore, I can't tell you what they found," Stackhouse said in an email.

A three-member Board of Inquiry made up of higher-ranking officers spent six days reviewing testimony into Golsteyn's conduct while leading a team of Special Forces troops in Afghanistan in 2010. Golsteyn was never charged with a war crime after allegations he hunted down and shot a suspected Afghan bomb-maker. The panel wasn't attempting to establish whether Golsteyn killed the Afghan. Instead, the panel considered whether he should be retained as an Army officer based on a reprimand in his personnel record.

The decision may mark the end of a military career for a highly-rated officer. Golsteyn was awarded a Silver Star medal for battlefield valor and nominated for a Distinguished Service Cross, the second-highest military decoration a soldier can receive for extraordinary heroism.

During an offensive against the Taliban stronghold of Marjah in Afghanistan's Helmand province in February 2010, Golsteyn responded to an attack on his base by leading about 80 troops into a four-hour firefight. He repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire as he helped evacuate a wounded Afghan soldier and directed repeated airstrikes onto the enemy, according to an Army narrative about Golsteyn's Silver Star medal.

In November 2011, about two months before being promoted from captain to major, Golsteyn told the CIA during an interview that prior to that medal-winning battle he shot and killed a suspected Afghan bomb-maker he blamed for an explosion that killed two Marines.

The day after the deadly blast in a bazaar, two Afghan men walked up to the U.S. military compound with a third, bound Afghan they said was responsible, according to testimony to the panel. Golsteyn told another soldier to release the man after they couldn't find evidence of bomb-making material, according to testimony reported by The Fayetteville Observer.

Soon after, the accused bomb-maker was shot while walking along a path in Marjah, according to testimony.

The Army's Criminal Investigative Division, acting on the CIA's tip, could find no one who corroborated Golsteyn's claim to have killed the bomb-maker, nor could they find any cremated remains of the Afghan. Despite that, investigators said "Golsteyn committed the offenses of murder and conspiracy based on the interview provided by the CIA," according to the Sept. 29 memo.

The Army revoked Golsteyn's Special Forces tab and the Silver Star. He was assigned to a headquarters unit.

Stackhouse said military investigators sought only to find evidence confirming the allegations and ignored evidence that could disprove them.

U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-California, issued a statement Monday saying he would continue to press Army Secretary John McHugh to restore Golsteyn's Silver Star and follow through with awarding him the Distinguished Service Cross.

"Bottom line, the Army's effort to discredit Matt began well before his Board was even organized, as evidenced by the Secretary's actions to strip his valor awards in order to imply some sort of guilt. His valor awards are still owed to him," said Hunter, a San Diego Republican and former Marine officer.

A spokesman for McHugh did not respond to a request for comment.

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Emery P. Dalesio can be reached at http://twitter.com/emerydalesio