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.

USA Gymnastics

New report on USA Gymnastics and Larry Nassar is a reminder that athletes across America are still at risk

In February, the U.S. Olympic Committee commissioned an investigation into former team doctor Larry Nassar’s abuse of hundreds of children over a period of decades. Now that report, conducted by independent law firm Ropes & Gray, has finally been released. Entitled “The Constellation of Factors Underlying Larry Nassar’s Abuse of Athletes,” the findings are damning: the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) and USA Gymnastics (USAG) enabled Nassar’s abuse by prioritizing medals and money at the expense of the safety and wellbeing of athletes.

But the failures outlined in the Ropes & Gray report extend well beyond Nassar’s abuse of gymnasts. These same failures have enabled similar abuse over decades in gyms, pools, and other sporting facilities around the country. Through the Ted Stevens and Amateur Sports Act, Congress has given the USOC essentially a monopoly power over all “Olympic-related activity” in the United States. Lost in much media coverage of abuse in Olympic sport, is that “Olympic-related activity” extends well beyond actual participation in the Olympics. Under the USOC, 47 national governing bodies (NGBs) also credential coaches and oversee teams at the local level.

Thus, the toxic culture described in the Ropes & Gray report also affects children whose involvement in sports is casual. I was an average swimmer, not an elite gymnast, yet many parts of the report felt familiar as I read through it. My perpetrator abused me starting in the mid-1980s, when at the age of seven I joined a swim team at my local YMCA.

Not long after, my coach decided to start his own team at a non-regulation length pool in the basement of a local college in order to have less accountability and more access to me. The process was easy. He paid his dues to USA Swimming and became a USA Swimming team with me as his first and only member. His main work experience prior to founding the team was as an elementary school playground monitor and lifeguard. But because the USA Swimming and Olympic brand inspires trust, he soon had a steady stream of customers.

USA Gymnastics

Before I reported my perpetrator in 2014, I fantasized that the culture in sports had somehow changed and that children would be protected. I was wrong. My abuser is now in prison and USA Swimming banned him from the sport. And yet, the team my perpetrator created to abuse me still exists and is now owned by a woman who called my abuser a man of impeccable character after he had pleaded guilty.

The USOC has an obligation to be a better steward of the Olympic brand. It has the means to protect athletes, but for decades has failed to adequately do so. The culture that existed when I was abused in the 1980s persists today because of the twisted priorities of those in charge. Pursuit of the Olympic dream should never be accompanied by life-ruining abuse, and participation in a sport should never compromise a child’s wellbeing.

Until the USOC — perhaps with the help of Congress — undergoes a seismic cultural shift, youth sports should come with a warning label. As this latest report shows, athletes across all sports governed by the USOC are at risk because of the same broken policies, practices, and culture that brought us Larry Nassar.

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