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US Army Opens Criminal Investigation of Death of Unarmed Taliban Detainee

FILE - Members of the Taliban gather in Ghazni province, Afghanistan.

The U.S. Army has opened a criminal investigation of a soldier who confessed on national television to killing an unarmed Taliban detainee, a senior Army official told VOA Thursday.

The investigation of former Major Mathew Golsteyn, first reported by The Washington Post, began earlier this month, according to the senior Army official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

In an October interview, Golsteyn admitted to Fox News Channel that he had killed the alleged bomb maker while in Marja in 2010.

"This is a criminal case that was opened up because of a public confession," a U.S. official told VOA. "It is incumbent upon the Army to investigate that."

In the interview, the show host asks, "Did you kill the Taliban bomb maker?"

"Yes," Golsteyn replied.

Honor removed

Golsteyn initially acknowledged killing the detainee - who was accused of making a bomb that killed two Marines serving under Golsteyn's command - during a polygraph test while applying for a job with the CIA in 2011.

According to The Washington Post report, Golsteyn said a tribal leader who had identified the detainee as a Taliban member said he feared that if the American unit let the detainee go, the detainee would kill the tribal leader and his family.

A U.S. official said the CIA alerted the Army of the statement, and the Army launched an administrative board of inquiry into the killing.

The administrative review ended in 2014 without the Army finding evidence to charge Golsteyn; none of his fellow soldiers corroborated the story of the killing and Army officials weren't in the room to confirm the CIA confession.

But then-Army Secretary John McHugh decided to revoke Golsteyn's Silver Star Medal, the U.S. military's third-highest decoration for valor in combat, which he had earned in Afghanistan.

The U.S. official said an Army administrative review is different from an Army criminal case, and added that the October confession provides new evidence about the incident.

"So double jeopardy doesn't apply," the official said, referring to a law in the United States that prohibits citizens from being retried for the same crime using the same evidence.

Golsteyn told The Washington Post in an email Thursday that the Defense Department and Army have “viciously pursued me without a discernible cause or a stated goal for over five years.”

A senior Army official said there is currently a complaint on the Army’s handling of the case that was filed with the Defense Department Inspector General. There cannot be any results released from the case until the complaint is resolved.

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    Carla Babb

    Carla is VOA's Pentagon correspondent covering defense and international security issues. Her datelines include Ukraine, Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Korea.