Breaking News Emails
Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.
By Carol E. Lee and Courtney Kube
The U.S. Army has charged a decorated Green Beret with premeditated murder for killing an Afghan man in Afghanistan nearly a decade ago, according to military legal documents obtained by NBC News.
Army Maj. Mathew L. Golsteyn is accused of shooting and killing “a male of apparent Afghan descent known as Rasoul” on February 22, 2010, near Forward Operating base McQuery in Marjah, Afghanistan. The charge sheet was dated Wednesday but Golsteyn was read the charge and signed a memo acknowledging it Thursday morning.
It took more than eight years for the charges to be brought despite Golsteyn having twice confessed to the killing.
The Army Criminal Investigation Command (CID) opened an investigation into the Green Beret in late 2011 after he disclosed the killing during a CIA polygraph test, military officials said. Golsteyn was applying for a job with the spy agency when he admitted to fatally shooting the man who he said was a suspected Taliban bomb maker.
In April 2014, Golsteyn received an official reprimand for his actions, but no formal charges were filed at the time due to a lack of physical evidence, military officials said. Army Secretary John McHugh revoked Golsteyn’s Silver Star, the third highest award for valor in the military, and took away his Special Forces tab, a patch awarded to soldiers after completing one of the elite Special Forces schools.
Two years later, Golsteyn appeared on a FOX News Special Report entitled, “How We Fight,” where he admitted to killing the suspected bomb maker.
Golsteyn told anchor Brett Baier he was concerned that if he released the suspected Taliban member, the man would target Afghans who were providing information to U.S. soldiers.
Baier asked Golsteyn if he’d killed the man. “Yes,” Golsteyn replied.
The interview breathed new life into what was still a cold case killing, according to a military official familiar with the investigation.
“I’m here right now because of that interview,” Golsteyn told NBC News Thursday. “I did the interview because I wanted to do some advocacy, not talk about my case or what happened in Afghanistan.”
Still, Golsteyn stands by his comments to Baier. He does, however, take issue with comments attributed to him from the 2011 Army CID investigation.
“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 said, referring to the “assassinate” line. “It was a complete lie.”
He added that the statement has been “cut and pasted” into every report since then and was used to justify revoking his awards and issue his letter of reprimand.
The alleged murder came just days after two U.S. Marines, Sgt. Jeremy McQueary and Lance Cpl. Larry Johnson, were killed by an explosion when they entered a building rigged to blow up. Golsteyn was there when the Marines were killed and three others were injured, according to Golsteyn.
The charging sheets provide no details on the circumstances of the Afghan man’s killing.
But according to military documents referencing the account Golsteyn provided to investigators in 2011, he and his fellow soldiers were doing house-to-house searches when they found bomb-making materials they suspected were used in the attack on the Marines. The soldiers took into custody a local man who they believed had been in possession of the materials, and brought him back to base.
Later that day, the Afghan man was set to be released. It’s unclear whether it was because there was not enough evidence to detain him or if there was another reason.
The documents say Golsteyn and another soldier took the man to his home. Instead of releasing him, Golsteyn fatally shot the man and buried his body. The documents don’t include an explanation from Golsteyn on why he shot the man, but they do refer it as an “assassination.”
Hours later, he dug up the victim’s remains and burned them in the pit used to dispose of trash and classified documents, according to the military records referencing his account.
A source familiar with the investigation said new evidence has cast doubt on parts of Golsteyn’s version of events, but would not elaborate.
Golsteyn is unaware of what the new evidence might be. “They claim that they have evidence not made available” previously, he said.
Asked whether he would change his actions that day, Golsteyn responded immediately: “No.”
Goldsteyn wouldn’t discuss specifics about the killing, but he still maintains that he did nothing wrong. “I have had commanders look me in the face and tell me I have done nothing wrong,” Golsteyn said.
Golsteyn’s attorney Phillip Stackhouse did not respond to a request for comment.
A spokesperson for U.S. Army Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) confirmed that charges were brought against Golsteyn.
“Major Matthew Golsteyn’s immediate commander has determined that sufficient evidence exists to warrant the preferral of charges against him. Major Golsteyn is being charged with the murder of an Afghan male during his 2010 deployment to Afghanistan,” LTC Loren Bymer said in a statement.
The charge sheet for Golsteyn was signed the same day the head of U.S. Special Operations Command and the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict circulated a “Guidance on Ethics” memo to U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF).
In the email release with the memo, Gen. Tony Thomas said: “A broader review of events across USSOCOM make this guidance timely and give it greater urgency. A survey of allegations of serious misconduct across our formations over the last year indicate that USSOCOM faces a deeper challenge of a disordered view of the Team and the Individual in our SOF culture.”
The memo directs the elite special operators to “remain vigilant” and that “small actions can have large impacts.”
“When tough calls need to be made, do you best in the light of our American values,” Thomas and Gen. Owen West wrote in the memo.
Golsteyn has been on extended voluntary leave from the military, but the Army put him back on active duty earlier this week. A date is not yet set for his initial hearing in military court, known as an Article 32.
A conviction of premeditated murder carries a maximum penalty of death.