Military investigators said in charge sheets released Thursday that the accused service members broke into Melgar’s private bedroom in Bamako, Mali’s capital, while he was sleeping, with intent to assault and bound him with duct tape. Then one of the service members put Melgar in a chokehold that was “inherently dangerous to another and evinced wanton disregard for human life,” the charge sheets said.
The charges, first reported Thursday by the Daily Beast, had been expected for some time in the close-knit Special Operations world, which was rocked by the death. The Navy moved forward Wednesday and has scheduled a preliminary hearing for the four service members Dec. 10 in Norfolk. Rear Adm. Charles W. Rock has been appointed by the Navy to oversee the proceedings.
A spokesman for U.S. Special Operations Command, Navy Capt. Jason Salata, said in a statement that if substantiated, the allegations would represent “a violation of the trust and standards required by all service members.” The military trusts all of its members to safeguard U.S. interests and to do so with honor, he said.
“We will not allow allegations or substantiated incidents of misconduct to erode decades of honorable accomplishments by the members of U.S. Special Operations Command,” Salata said. “Ours is a culture of professionalism and accountability, which prides itself in being a learning organization that uses critical self-examination in a relentless dedication to improvement.”
The names of the accused service members were redacted from the charge sheets released Thursday, but they are identified by rank as a Marine staff sergeant, a Marine gunnery sergeant and two Navy petty officers.
The investigation progressed as the Pentagon weighed how many U.S. troops to keep deployed across Africa as it reorients to better prepare for adversarial relations with Russia and China. On Thursday, the Pentagon said that after a review, it has decided to reduce the number of deployed troops by about 10 percent, down from 7,200, over the next few years.
Melgar’s death was kept secret by the U.S. military for months as the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and other federal officials began probing what happened. It was first reported in October 2017 by the New York Times. A native of Lubbock, Tex., Melgar had served two previous deployments in Afghanistan.
The accused service members wanted to confront Melgar after he was invited to a party at the U.S. Embassy in Mali and they were not, the Daily Beast reported Thursday, citing people familiar with the case. There allegedly was an ongoing disagreement between Melgar and the others in part because some of them had solicited prostitutes in the past and brought them back to the military’s safe house in Bamako, the Daily Beast reported.
The case marks the latest black eye for the Navy SEALs, who have been faced with a series of allegations involving war crimes. On Wednesday, the Navy began a hearing in San Diego for another SEAL, Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher, who is accused of stabbing to death an unarmed Islamic State fighter in the Iraqi city of Mosul.