Trying to make sense of the story of Maj. Mathew L. Golsteyn is hard; trying to look for the angles in the media’s reporting of the story is worse.
The New York Times [nyt] summarizes the story.
Compressing it down further: an American officer applied for a job with the CIA and told them – during a “lie detector” test, no less – that he had murdered an Afghani villager suspected of being a bomb-builder, then concealed the murder. The Army investigated the claims and decided not to charge Golsteyn, and then Golsteyn went on Fox news and said he had committed the crime, at which point The Army charged him with murder.
That’s my dry and simple take on it: boy kills man, confesses to murder, the system tries to hide it for him but he brags publicly and now he’s in trouble. Various war pigs have weighed in and lured Donald Trump into the discussion as well, suggesting that Trump pardon Golsteyn for the murder. Now that a spotlight is shining on the whole sordid affair, The Army is doubtless sitting back thinking “there’s not enough whitewash to put a second coat on this!”
What’s weird, to me, is that some of the press are reporting this as a matter of “rules of engagement.” [mil]
An Army board of inquiry recommended a general discharge for Golsteyn and found no clear evidence the soldier violated the rules of engagement while deployed in 2010. This would have allowed Golsteyn to retain most of his retirement benefits under a recommended general discharge under honorable conditions.
Wait, what? There are no “rules of engagement” that say “war crimes are permitted.”
Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-California, himself a Marine veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan, stepped in on Golsteyn’s behalf, writing a letter to the Army secretary and making scathing public comments about the case, calling the Army’s investigation “retaliatory and vindictive.”
So much for the “rule of law”, Rep. I guess he doesn’t realize that taking someone prisoner, then shooting them, is illegal.
There are three things that freak me out a bit about this story:
- Donald Trump is perceived as a defender of the military
- The CIA still uses polygraphs in employment screenings? Holy shit, didn’t they get the memo that polygraphs are pseudo-science?
- This guy is so stupid that he admits to a murder on television, then expects to get away with it? Does he think he’s a presidential candidate, or something?
Though he was cleared of a law of armed conflict violation, the board found Golsteyn’s conduct as unbecoming an officer.
Well, duh, that’s why he was applying for a job at CIA!
The Times has a lot of mummity-mum about how this sort of behavior undermines “the rule of law”:
The biggest casualty of Mr. Trump’s interference could be the image of American justice in Afghanistan, where 14,000 American service members are still advising, assisting, fighting and, in some cases, dying.
Abdul Karim Attal, a member of the Helmand provincial council, said in a telephone interview on Sunday that a pardon for Major Golsteyn would “give logic to those who say they are waging war against the Americans in Afghanistan because the Americans are not even committed to their own justice system.”
Oh, dear, “hearts and minds” again? Listen, there isn’t anyone in Afghanistan who believes the Americans are committed to any justice system except Mao’s “power comes from the barrel of a gun.” What the fuck is The Times even talking about, trying to pretend that there is an “image of American justice in Afghanistan” that might be tarnished? The Afghanis have been bombed into a state of realism.
Another trope The Times deploys is the standard “there were casualties!”:
Major Golsteyn was in Afghanistan in 2010 during the battle for the city of Marja in the volatile Helmand Province. The battle was huge – more than 15,000 American, Afghan, British, Canadian, Danish and Estonian troops assaulted the Taliban stronghold. Over the next several months, dozens of Americans were killed and hundreds were wounded.
Taliban or civilians killed? No mention. Dozens of Americans killed and hundreds wounded justify an atrocity. Now, this is not a full-fledged attempt to justify an atrocity; The Times is just putting those numbers on the page so that people will think “oh, well maybe Golsteyn was upset.” Or something.
That was Operation Moshtarak [wik]
When launched, the operation was called a “new war model”. Afghan and NATO officials had assembled a large team of Afghan administrators and an Afghan governor that would move into Marja after the fighting, with more than 1,900 police standing by. “We’ve got a government in a box, ready to roll in”, said American commander Stanley McChrystal. The capture of Marja was intended to serve as a prototype for a new type of military operation.
Hearts and minds.