After eight years, two investigations and the intervention of a congressman, Maj. Matthew Golsteyn is being charged with murder in the death of an Afghan man during a 2010 deployment.
Golsteyn’s commander “has determined that sufficient evidence exists to warrant the preferral of charges against him,” U.S. Army Special Operations Command spokesman Lt. Col. Loren Bymer told Army Times in a brief email statement Thursday.
“Major Golsteyn is being charged with the murder of an Afghan male during his 2010 deployment to Afghanistan,” Bymer wrote.
The major’s attorney, Phillip Stackhouse, told Army Times that he and his client learned of the charges on Thursday as well, and that the murder charge carries with it the possibility of a death penalty.
Stackhouse called his client a “humble servant-leader who saved countless lives, both American and Afghan, and has been recognized repeatedly for his valorous actions.”
Bymer confirmed that Golsteyn has been recalled to active duty and is under the command of the USASOC headquarters company. An intermediary commander will review the warrant of preferred charges to determine if the major will face an Article 32 hearing that could lead to a court-martial.
That commander has 120 days to make that decision.
Golsteyn had been placed on voluntary excess leave, an administrative status for soldiers pending lengthy administrative proceedings, Bymer said. He is not being confined at this time.
The path to these charges has been a winding one.
Golsteyn, a captain at the time, was deployed to Afghanistan in 2010 with 3rd Special Forces Group. During the intense Battle of Marja, explosives planted on a booby-trapped door killed two Marines and wounded three others who were working with the major’s unit.
During those heated days, Golsteyn earned a Silver Star, the nation’s third-highest award for valor, when he helped track down a sniper targeting his troops, assisted a wounded Afghan soldier and helped coordinate multiple airstrikes.
He would be awarded that medal at a 2011 ceremony at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The award was later approved for an upgrade to the Distinguished Service Cross, the second highest award for valor.
But both the medal and his coveted Special Forces tab would be stripped from him due to an investigation that eventually closed in 2014 without any charges.
An Army board of inquiry recommended a general discharge for Golsteyn and found no clear evidence the soldier violated the rules of engagement while deployed in 2010. This would have allowed Golsteyn to retain most of his retirement benefits under a recommended general discharge under honorable conditions.
Though he was cleared of a law of armed conflict violation, the board found Golsteyn’s conduct as unbecoming an officer.
Golsteyn was out of Special Forces and in a legal limbo as he awaited a discharge.
That could have been the end of it, but in mid-2015, Army documents surfaced, showing that Golsteyn allegedly told CIA interviewers during a polygraph test that he had killed an alleged Afghan bomb-maker and later conspired with others to destroy the body.
Those documents were part of a 2011 report filed by an Army investigator, Special Agent Zachary Jackson, who reported that Golsteyn said after the Marines were killed in the February blast that his unit found bomb-making materials nearby, detained the suspected bomb-maker and brought him back to their base.
A local tribal leader identified the man as a known Taliban bomb-maker. The accused learned of the leader’s identification, which caused the tribal leader to fear he would kill him and his family if released.
Trusting the leader and having also seen other detainees released, Golsteyn allegedly told CIA interviewers that he and another soldier took the alleged bomb-maker off base, shot him and buried his remains.
He also allegedly told the interviewers that on the night of the killing, he and two other soldiers dug up the body and burned it in a trash pit on base.
Stackhouse has previously called this alleged admission a “fantasy” that his client confessed to shooting an unarmed man.
Then, in late 2016, during an interview with Fox News, Golsteyn admitted to a version of the incidents involving the killing of the alleged Afghan bomb-maker.
The Army opened a second investigation near the end of 2016.
Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-California, himself a Marine veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan, stepped in on Golsteyn’s behalf, writing a letter to the Army secretary and making scathing public comments about the case, calling the Army’s investigation “retaliatory and vindictive.”
The congressman called on Army leadership to “fix this stupidity,” describing Golsteyn as “a distinguished and well regarded Green Beret.”
Unrelated to the Golsteyn case, Hunter was indicted earlier this year by federal prosecutors who are alleging conspiracy, wire fraud, falsification of records and prohibited use of campaign contributions.