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Army won’t return medals to Green Beret Trump pardoned for killing suspected bomb maker

Then-Army Capt. Matthew L. Golsteyn in Afghanistan in 2010. (Office of Rep. Duncan Hunter/Released)
March 18, 2021

The U.S. Army rejected an appeal to reinstate military service decorations and a Special Forces Tab for retired Maj. Matthew Golsteyn. Golsteyn faced murder charges for killing a suspected Taliban bomb-maker in 2010 but President Donald Trump pardoned him of the charge before his case went to trial.

“The Army Board for Correction of Military Records, the service’s highest level of administrative review for personnel actions, has considered and denied Matthew Golsteyn’s application,” Army spokesman Lt. Col Gabriel J. Ramirez told American Military News on Thursday. “Privacy laws prevent the Army from disclosing specific information regarding the Board’s decision.”

Golsteyn’s decorations included the Silver Star, the third-highest U.S. military honor. Golsteyn earned the award for heroism during the Battle of Marjah in Afghanistan.

According to Task and Purpose, the Army had previously approved upgrading the Silver Star to the Distinguished Service Cross, the second-highest military decoration behind only the Medal of Honor.

USA Today reported, based on Army documents it obtained, that the Army reached its decision not to reinstate Golsteyn’s Special Forces Tab and decorations in June, but held off on announcing the decision during Trump’s final months in office. According to the documents obtained by USA Today, the Army review board cited a letter from the Justice Department stating that Trump’s pardon did not wipe clean Golsteyn’s record.

The “Presidential pardon is a sign of forgiveness and ‘does not indicate innocence,’” the board wrote.

Golsteyn was accused of murdering a suspected Taliban bomb-maker who had been captured and ordered released after questioning in 2010. The Army opened its initial investigation of the case in 2011 after Golsteyn allegedly admitted to the killing during a CIA job interview. The Army concluded its first investigation in 2013 without charging Golsteyn, but revoked his decorations in 2015.

The initial investigation and decision to strip Golsteyn of his decorations saw controversy. In 2015, the Daily Beast reported Army investigators in Golsteyn’s case had threatened the soldiers who served under him and promised them full immunity “several times” to testify against Golsteyn, but none of them did. The Washington Post reported that in a Dec. 4, 2015 letter to the Army Human Resources Command, then-Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, said the Army’s revocation of Golsteyn’s decorations appears to be “retaliatory and vindictive.”

The investigation was reopened in December 2016 after Golsteyn admitted to the killing during an interview with Fox News in November of that year.

The renewed effort to prosecute Golsteyn saw several of its own controversies. The lead prosecutor in the case, Sgt. 1st Class Mark Delacruz, was charged with stolen valor for falsifying his service record and war service decorations he never earned. Golsteyn’s defense team further alleged prosecutors mischaracterized his admission of killing the bombmaker and said Golsteyn believed the alleged bomb-maker was armed at the time of the killing and that the soldier’s actions were consistent with the rules of engagement. As the case neared trial, Golsteyn was also denied leave to meet with his legal counsel.

Trump pardoned Golsteyn on Nov. 15, 2019. On that same day, he pardoned Army Lt. Clint Lorance.

Lorance was sentenced to 20 years in prison for giving an order to kill two suspected Taliban militants while in Afghanistan in July 2012. Lorance believed the two militants to be scouts that were previously identified by a military pilot.