The general helming Army Special Operations Command denied a request to reinstate the Special Forces tab of an officer pardoned before going to trial for premeditated murder, forcing the request to now go to the service’s highest level review for personnel actions.
President Donald Trump pardoned retired Maj. Mathew L. Golsteyn in November. He was set to stand trial this winter for allegedly murdering a man he suspected to be an Afghan bombmaker.
“On Dec. 3, 2019, following a thorough review, [Lt. Gen. Francis M. Beaudette] denied Golsteyn’s request for reinstatement of the Special Forces Tab," an Army spokesperson, who declined to be identified, said in prepared statement.
Beaudette wrote in his memo denying to reinstate the tab that the Justice Department’s acting pardon attorney said the presidential pardon was preemptive, and “does not erase or expunge the record of offense charges and does not indicate innocence."
The Washington Post, which first reported the news, noted that the incident could set up a confrontation between Pentagon and White House leaders. Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer was asked to tender his resignation in November over a similar struggle with the president to reinstate the SEAL trident of Chief Special Warfare Operator Eddie Gallagher.
Phillip Stackhouse, the civilian attorney representing Golsteyn, said that his office has already appealed the decision to the Army Board for Correction of Military Records. They also will send a letter to the White House Counsel.
“The Army has asked the ABCMR to consider those decisions along with Golsteyn’s request for removal of a General Officer Memorandum of Reprimand issued on April 24, 2014, from his official Army record," the Army spokesman’s statement added.
Also at stake is a potential Silver Star medal upgrade to the Distinguished Service Cross.
Beaudette’s reasoning goes against what the president told the pardoned Green Beret officer over the phone, according to Stackhouse.
“It wasn’t just about pardoning him of the charges, but [the president] also said that he was going to expunge his record and he would receive everything back,” Stackhouse said. “He was very explicit in his direction, in front of the vice president, in front of his counsel and to Matt.”
Several Green Berets who previously spoke with Army Times said that they doubted the tab would be restored, as it is an administrative process seperate from judicial action. One Green Beret recalled other cases of former soldiers who beat legal trouble, but never saw their tabs returned.
The issue of whether to reinstate the tab appeared to be controversial among some Green Berets.
One retired Army Special Forces soldier, Sgt. 1st Class Clay Martin, said stripping tabs prior to trial “shows SF command’s willingness to jump up and do anything to avoid a potential political nightmare.”
“While I’ve never seen them revoke a medal, I’ve certainly seen revoked tabs without waiting to see what the outcome is," Martin said in a previous Army Times story on the issue.
But the tab is not a lifetime guarantee, regardless of legal outcomes, said one officer.
“Bottom line, SOF need to have a way to maintain standards and expectations of judgment within the force beyond what is merely legal, and especially just ‘barely this side of what can be proven in a court of law,’ ” Mike Nelson, an Army Special Forces lieutenant colonel, previously said, adding that is his own opinion and not that of the Army.
At the time of the president’s pardon, Golsteyn was awaiting trial by court-martial for premeditated murder under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The latest case against Golsteyn was the second time the Army investigated the 2010 incident in Helmand province. An initial probe found insufficient evidence to charge the officer.
However, in 2015, Army documents surfaced, showing that Golsteyn told CIA interviewers during a polygraph test that he had killed an Afghan bomb-maker who allegedly built an IED that killed two Marines out of fear that releasing the prisoner would lead to the death of the Afghan tribal leader who identified him.
After shooting the Afghan man, Golsteyn and two other soldiers later returned to burn the corpse, he told the CIA.
An attorney for Golsteyn called the alleged murder a “fantasy,” though the Army opened a second investigation in 2016 and ultimately charged him with murder in December 2018.
Although he no longer has a tab, Golsteyn was still seen periodically wearing his green beret headpiece during court appearances this summer. That’s not against policy, though.
The awarding of a Special Forces tab is “separate and distinct from the MOS,” Lt. Col. Loren Bymer, a Army special operations spokesman, previously said.
Kyle Rempfer is an editor and reporter whose investigations have covered combat operations, criminal cases, foreign military assistance and training accidents. Before entering journalism, Kyle served in U.S. Air Force Special Tactics and deployed in 2014 to Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and Baghdad, Iraq.
Todd South has written about crime, courts, government and the military for multiple publications since 2004 and was named a 2014 Pulitzer finalist for a co-written project on witness intimidation. Todd is a Marine veteran of the Iraq War.