Army shoots down soldier’s appeal to reinstate medals after Trump pardon

The U.S. Army has refused a request to reinstate medals for valor initially awarded to an officer pardoned by former President Donald Trump.

The Army turned down the request from Mathew Golsteyn, a retired major and Special Forces operator who was charged with allegedly murdering an Afghan man suspected of being a Taliban bomb maker in 2010.

Golsteyn was charged with assassinating the suspected bomb maker in 2018 after telling the CIA in an interview to join the spy agency years earlier that he had killed the man, USA Today reported Wednesday. The suspected bomb maker was believed to have killed two U.S. Marines.

The following year, Trump agreed to review Golsteyn’s case along with two others — Army 1st Lt. Clint Lorance and Navy SEAL Special Warfare Operator First Class Edward Gallagher — and eventually pardoned them.

“The President, as Commander-in-Chief, is ultimately responsible for ensuring that the law is enforced and when appropriate, that mercy is granted,” the White House said in a Nov. 15, 2019, statement. “For more than two hundred years, presidents have used their authority to offer second chances to deserving individuals, including those in uniform who have served our country. These actions are in keeping with this long history.

“As the President has stated, ‘when our soldiers have to fight for our country, I want to give them the confidence to fight,’” the statement added.

In December 2019, Golsteyn submitted a request to the Army to have his Distinguished Service Cross, second only to the Medal of Honor, reinstated. But last June, in a decision that was not publicized, the Army rejected the request, USA Today reported, adding that the service branch also denied Golsteyn’s request to reinstate his Special Forces tab.

A “Presidential pardon is a sign of forgiveness and ‘does not indicate innocence,’” the Army review board wrote in the decision in which Golsteyn’s name is redacted.

In a response provided to the paper by his attorney, Golsteyn ripped the Army for refusing to carry out Trump’s order to have his record expunged and cleared of all wrongdoing. He added that Trump expressed his wishes a number of times during a phone call in November 2019 that also included Vice President Mike Pence and other officials.

“Clearly, we have seen military departments obey the direction of the Commander in Chief in other cases and, inexplicably, the Army defied the President,” the former Special Forces officer said. “It shouldn’t be a surprise the findings of the Army Board were released in November 2020 and not mailed to me for 2 more months, after President Trump left office, so my case could languish in the quagmire of Presidential transition.”

Phillip Stackhouse, Golsteyn’s lawyer, called the Army’s decision “silly” and said the service branch should have carried out Trump’s instructions to clear his record and fully reinstate his medals and status as a Special Forces officer.

He added that President Joe Biden should now fulfill his predecessor’s wishes, adding that it wasn’t clear whether his client would appeal to a federal court.

One military historian and expert said that the Army “may have dodged a bullet” by waiting to release the report until after Trump left office.

“Certainly, the Army had an incentive to avoid antagonizing the president here,” Dwight Mears, a researcher, West Point graduate, and former history professor at the military academy, told USA Today. 

“It’s certainly possible Trump could have attempted to overrule the (board), which would be the worst-case scenario for the Army,” Mears, who found the record and gave it to USA Today, added. “He could theoretically have ordered them to rule differently, as they are all government employees.”

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Jon Dougherty

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