Green Beret Mathew

Trump’s interference in the murder trial of Green Beret Mathew Golsteyn sends the wrong message to U.S. troops

The major facts of the case against Army Maj. Mathew Golsteyn are not in dispute: On or about February 22, 2010, Golsteyn killed an Afghan man whom the decorated soldier believed was a member of the Taliban and a bomb maker connected to the deaths of two U.S. Marines two days earlier. And we know this because Major Golsteyn has said so.

In 2015, after an investigation, then-Secretary of the Army John McHugh stripped Golsteyn of his Silver Star, took away his Special Forces tab and gave him an official reprimand. He has now he has been charged with premeditated murder and accused of killing the alleged Taliban member after he was taken into custody.

Because most Americans do not serve in uniform, and even fewer have served in combat, this case is rich with circumstances most will never encounter. For example, why is Golsteyn is being charged with murder when the object of combat being to kill enemy combatants? This feels especially contradictory in the context of a conflict like Afghanistan, where people who appear to be innocent civilians are actually in the business of killing Americans.

Making matters even murkier, President Donald Trump has now weighed in on the matter, promising to review the case and calling Golsteyn a hero on Twitter. Is Trump right? Is Golsteyn a hero being unfairly prosecuted for brutality that is justified in the context of a brutal and unpredictable war?

But killing the enemy is not the only part of that infantry mission statement — you are also, at times, capturing him. It happens more often than most people think, but from time to time enemy soldiers are taken into custody rather than killed, as was the man Golsteyn is being accused of murdering. Sometimes these captives are badly wounded, incapacitated and can’t fight back. Sometimes they just surrender. But at that point, when they are under your control, you inherit responsibility for them and must treat them humanely. Even though captives are among the best sources of intelligence we can encounter, keeping them alive is labor-intensive, burdensome, inconvenient and even tactically dangerous. But you may not just shoot them because it is easier to deal with them that way or you are worried about what they will do if you release them.

Green Beret Mathew

Importantly, this principle remains true even in unconventional wars, when we are confronted with an enemy that is stealthy, wily and concealed among the population whose allegiance we are trying to win. It is not just being stodgy and inflexible to assert that, if nations are to succeed in armed combat over the duration of a campaign, individual soldiers may not make up their own rules.

What’s next? An Article 32 investigation. It is the military equivalent of a grand jury hearing — except that Major Golsteyn can be represented by counsel and can cross-examine witnesses, two rights civilians do not enjoy in all but a few jurisdictions. Personal experience with the Uniform Code of Military Justice says that military people are typically sensitive to the difficult choices that combat soldiers must make in the heat of battle. But they are also sensitive to the logic, strategic importance and societal strength of having rules that govern behavior in the most difficult situations.

There are, of course, disadvantages to being — as the cliche goes — a nation of laws rather than a nation of men. But it is something of an irony that, if we fight wars without adhering to rules we establish, we are subjecting ourselves to the grossest inhumanity of our adversaries and the regrets of our consciences.

Facebook can’t be trusted to protect users’ data on its own. It’s time for Congress to step in.

trusted to protect

While the details of this week’s Facebook scandal — that the company had allowed partners to view supposedly private user data — were new, the arc of this story already follows a predictable script that, unfortunately, Americans are seeing over and over and over again.

Every few weeks, a new story breaks about some new corporate innovation in unauthorized sharing, selling or losing control of Americans’ data; the company will apologize and promise to always put customers first; it will make a cosmetic, largely meaningless change to its policies; and then it all happens again a few months later. Wash, rinse, repeat.

After years of this, Americans are understandably fed up with empty corporate promises. Some of the biggest tech companies have repeatedly shown that profits come first… and then we’ll see about best interests of users.

Sheryl Sandberg personally told me that personal privacy is a matter of national security, and yet we now know that Facebook shared users’ personal information with Russian and Chinese telecom companies with strong links to their governments. (Yandex has been credibly accused of funneling user data to the Russian government, while U.S intelligence officials have been sounding the alarm about Huawei’s government links for years now.)

I personally asked Facebook about its data-sharing partnerships with other companies earlier this year, and my staff reviewed the privacy audits it filed with the Federal Trade Commission. Those audits revealed, much like the New York Times’ reporting, that, once Facebook had handed users’ personal information to other companies, it did nearly nothing to make sure that outside companies protected that information.

trusted to protect

So why does this latest confirmation that users’ data may well be shared or traded away without their permission matter, beyond proving once again that too often corporations will say nearly anything to further their march to higher profits and stock prices?

For one, it makes America less secure, by making it much easier for foreign adversaries to scoop up Americans’ deeply personal information to then use as ammunition against the United States.

Two recent reports written for the Senate Intelligence Committee are a stark illustration of how these campaigns work. Russia tried hard to keep African-Americans away from the polls by targeting them on social media in 2016. These kinds of foreign influence operations will only get more sophisticated in the future.

When hostile regimes have ready access to Americans’ data — by obtaining it from friendly companies or stealing it — it makes it even easier for these governments to micro-target us with divisive messages and false content designed to undermine American democracy.

Companies repeatedly lie to Congress and the American people about what they do with our information. It’s my view that CEOs who lie to the government about protecting your privacy shouldn’t get off with a slap-on-the-wrist fine: They should face serious financial penalties and even the possibility of prison time for lying to the government about protecting your data and, under my bill, they will.

After watching the privacy spin cycle far too many times, it’s clear to me that corporate CEOs need some skin in the game to actually take Americans’ privacy seriously.

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