Murder, Military, and the Chain of Command

Mathew L GolsteynYou may have heard the story of US Army Major Mathew L Golsteyn, whose application to go to the CIA ended in an investigation of his committing war crimes in Afghanistan. Well, this week, Ryan Devereaux and Jeremy Scahill at The Intercept published, Documents: Green Beret Who Sought Job At CIA Confessed To Murder. When it was originally reported, The Washington Post only said that, “Mathew L Golsteyn was investigated by the Army Criminal Investigation Command for an undisclosed violation of the US military’s rules of engagement in 2010 that resulted in the death of a known enemy fighter and bombmaker in Helmand province, Afghanistan, according to the officials.” That puts a rather nice gloss on it.

It turns out that Golsteyn had told the CIA that he had captured and murdered this man, “Golsteyn stated that he knew it was illegal but was not remorseful as he had solid intelligence…” Judge, jury, and executioner. According to him, he buried the body, but then want back a couple of days later with two friends and burned the body. The army punished him as much as they could, but they couldn’t court martial him because they had no corroborating evidence. That in itself is interesting, because scores of Americans have been sent to their deaths based only on confessions — or supposed confessions. I’m glad the army works this way; I wish our civilian criminal justice system were so fair.

What is most interesting about all this is that Golsteyn might be lying. He might have been saying this just to impress his future employers. And I find that quite troubling. It shows that a lot of our men in uniform are psychopaths. What’s more, this kind of behavior shows a complete lack of respect for the military chain of command. Supposedly, Golsteyn alone knew that this man was a bomb maker and he alone went out and did something about it. According to the Army, the man was a noncombatant. Thus, Golsteyn is either a murderer or just a guy who wants to be thought of as a murderer.

Of course, now Golsteyn has become something of a cause célèbre on the right. Basically, he had some medals taken away, and now the army seems keen on getting rid of him. Law of war expert, Geoffrey Corn, noted, “It’s a career ending administrative sanction for an officer. The stripping of the medals is peripheral. The real thing is once he gets this reprimand in his official file, then somebody’s going to say we should process him to be separated from the military—in other words, fire him.” It doesn’t much matter whether he was telling the truth or not; he’s made the Army look bad.

It’s interesting to see the conservatives flock to Golsteyn’s defense, because it shows that they don’t really support the military and the troops. Their notions of the military come from Rambo. But individuals don’t win wars; armies win wars. What the Army is doing to Golsteyn is the maximum that it can given the information that they have. Golsteyn claimed that “his actions protected the safety of his fellow teammates.” That might have been true in the short term. But in the long term, it hurts the military mission in Afghanistan. But in the mind of conservatives, we just need a small group of Golsteyns to go in there and kick ass. This is the same kind of thinking that we can bomb our way to victory. Yes, we can kill everyone. But that isn’t what we are trying to do in Afghanistan.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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