President Donald Trump announced an unprecedented review of a former Army Green Beret, who had been charged with murder for the 2010 killing of a suspected Taliban bomb-maker.
“He could face the death penalty from our own government after he admitted to killing a terrorist bomb maker while overseas,” the president said in a tweet Dec. 16, 2018.
The charges against Army Maj. Matthew Golsteyn mark the latest step in a 9-year probe aimed at resolving whether the decorated former Green Beret is a war hero, as many believe — or a war criminal. The Army opened its latest investigation in December 2016, after Golsteyn admitted in an interview with Fox News to killing the suspected terrorist while his unit was deployed in Afghanistan.
The interview, which took place in October 2016, was part of a pre-election Fox News special discussing rules of engagement, which had become more restrictive during the Obama administration. In it, Golsteyn said military rules required him to release the suspect.
Golsteyn appears to be standing by his 2016 admission that he killed the Afghan, but disputes that he killed the man in cold blood. Instead, he claims that he and another soldier set out after the suspect soon his release, believing he still posed an imminent threat to US troops.
During the Fox News interview, Golsteyn described the circumstances of the suspected Taliban militant’s detainment.
The Afghan was suspected of involvement in the killing of two Marines, who died in an explosion. Golsteyn said in the interview that Afghan tribal leaders helped identify the suspect. US forces detained the man, but because of strict rules of engagement they had to release him.
In the interview, Golsteyn said he was concerned that the Afghans who aided US forces would be targeted by the suspected bomb maker.
“It is an inevitable outcome that people who are cooperating with coalition forces, when identified, will suffer some terrible torture or be killed,” Golsteyn said.How We Fight: A Fox News Special Report w/ Bret Baier
The Army’s case
Golsteyn received a Silver Star, the military’s third-highest award for valor in combat, for actions during his deployment in Afghanistan. But after he detailed the incident in an interview with the CIA, the Army opened an investigation and stripped his award. He was also removed from the Special Forces.
According to Army documents obtained by the Washington Post, Golsteyn reportedly told the CIA that he and another soldier escorted the suspect back to his home but rather than releasing him, they assassinated the unarmed Afghan man. The Army documents also allege that Golsteyn and two other soldiers later burned the body in a trash pit at their base compound.
But the same Army documents show that members of his unit expressed doubt that the officer would kill an unarmed suspect, and investigators found no evidence of a corpse in several burn pits, according to the Post.
The Army’s investigators did not have enough evidence to press charges.
Now prosecutors may be able to use Golsteyn’s on-air confession to bolster their case. Otherwise, Golsteyn’s attorney Phil Stackhouse says there is nothing new.
“They have insinuated to me that they have new evidence,” Stackhouse told Fox News. “I don’t believe there is any new evidence at all.”
Golsteyn says the charges are based on a ‘complete lie’
“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,” Golsteyn told NBC News on Dec. 20, 2018. “It was a complete lie.”
NBC News reported Golsteyn stands by what he told Fox News in 2016, but maintains that he did not violate military law. Stackhouse made an appearance on Fox and Friends Dec. 16, 2018, to support his client. In the interview, Stackhouse said that shortly after releasing the Afghan man, Golsteyn and another Special Forces soldier set out after him, maintaining that the man was planning to continue making bombs for the Taliban and posed an imminent threat to US forces.
Will Trump’s tweet sink the Army’s case?
Trump’s decision to tweet his support for the former Green Beret is an unprecedented move that may prove beneficial to Golsteyn’s defense.
The president lauded Golsteyn as a “US Military hero,” which could count as a violation of unlawful command influence — a tenet of the military justice system that prohibits leaders from influencing the outcome of a court-martial. But it is typically flagged when leaders prevent a defendant’s access to due process, and does not necessarily apply in this case, experts told Task Purpose.
It is unclear whether Trump’s tweet means he intends to ever grant Golsteyn a pardon, and the president can still do so at any point.
As far as the Army’s treatment of Golsteyn, Stackhouse told Fox News, “I think he’s been betrayed.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.