WASHINGTON — Navy criminal authorities have completed their investigation into the strangling of an Army Green Beret in June 2017 in Mali, and sent their report to an American admiral who will decide what charges, if any, will be brought in the case, officials said on Tuesday.
The results of the yearlong inquiry by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service into the death of Staff Sgt. Logan J. Melgar, a 34-year-old veteran of two tours in Afghanistan, were not made public.
But two members of the elite SEAL Team 6 who were in Mali on a secret assignment and shared embassy housing with Sergeant Melgar in the Malian capital, Bamako, have been under investigation into his death.
The Navy investigators’ report will now be reviewed by Rear Adm. Charles W. Rock, the commander of Navy Region Mid-Atlantic in Norfolk, Va. As the so-called consolidated disposition authority, Admiral Rock has been assigned by the Navy secretary, Richard V. Spencer, to oversee the case going forward.
Capt. Greg Hicks, the Navy’s chief spokesman, said Admiral Rock would “review all relevant information pertaining to Staff Sergeant Melgar’s death and make determinations regarding administrative or disciplinary actions as appropriate.”
“As in all military justice matters, any charges or actions will be handled in military service channels,” Captain Hicks said in a statement in response to questions from The New York Times. “During this process, it is paramount that the rights of all parties — including the service member who may be the subject of the investigation — are protected.”
He declined to comment further.
Admiral Rock will also examine the involvement of two Marine Raiders who lived in the same house as Sergeant Melgar and the two members of the Navy SEALs, Navy officials said.
According to a preliminary report dated Sept. 15 by the Army Criminal Investigation Command, the two Navy commandos said they found Sergeant Melgar “unresponsive” after wrestling with him.
One of the commandos later told a witness that he had “choked Logan out,” and that he and the other Navy commando wanted “to get back” at the sergeant for a perceived slight, according to the document, which was first reported in November 2017 by NBC News.
So far, no one has been charged in Sergeant Melgar’s death, which a military medical examiner last year ruled “a homicide by asphyxiation,” or strangulation.
The Naval Criminal Investigative Service took over the case in September 2017 from Army criminal authorities after the status of the two Navy commandos was changed from “witnesses” to “persons of interest.” That meant officials sought to determine what the commandos knew about the death and whether they were involved in its cause.
The SEALs were in Mali on a clandestine mission to support French and Malian counterterrorism forces battling Al Qaeda’s branch in North and West Africa, known as Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, as well as smaller cells aligned with Al Qaeda or the Islamic State.
The Americans helped provide intelligence for missions, and had participated in at least two such operations in Mali before Sergeant Melgar’s death. About two dozen American troops operate in Mali at any given time, mostly to help on training and counterterrorism missions.
SEAL Team 6, formally known as the Naval Special Warfare Development Group, has over the past decade carried out kill-or-capture missions in Libya, Yemen, Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia, as well as the one that killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in 2011.
According to the preliminary Army report, one of the SEALs put Sergeant Melgar in a chokehold. When the sergeant passed out, the commandos frantically tried to revive him — going so far as to perform CPR and a field-expedient emergency tracheotomy. When that failed, they rushed him to an emergency clinic, where he was pronounced dead.
Officials have said that one service member who knew Sergeant Melgar said that the sergeant’s chain of command immediately grew suspicious when the initial incident reports said the death was the result of a drunken accident. His friends and superiors knew that Sergeant Melgar did not drink.
The SEAL commando who said he put Sergeant Melgar in a chokehold is Petty Officer First Class Tony E. DeDolph, a former professional mixed martial arts fighter, according to the Army document. His identity was reported last year by The Intercept.
Petty Officer DeDolph and the second Navy commando, Chief Petty Officer Adam C. Matthews, were flown out of Mali shortly after Sergeant Melgar’s death and were sent to the unit’s headquarters in Dam Neck, Va., where Navy officials said on Tuesday they remained, effectively on administrative leave.
At the time, Sergeant Melgar’s killing was the latest violent death under mysterious circumstances for American troops on little-known missions in that region of Africa.
Four American soldiers were killed in an October 2017 ambush in neighboring Niger during what was initially described as a reconnaissance patrol, but was later changed to supporting a much more dangerous counterterrorism mission against Islamic militants.