Sergeant Melgar’s death is just the latest confirmation that the most celebrated and mysterious group of the U.S. military continues to function with minimal oversight and accountability — producing a climate in which even other members of the U.S. military are not safe.
After several months of investigation into the strangling of U.S. Army Green Beret Logan Melgar, the accounts of those at the center of the homicide investigation – two members of the famed Navy SEAL Team Six – have unraveled. The killing occurred while the SEALs and Melgar were on a secret assignment in the West African nation of Mali, where they were said to have been helping with training and counterterrorism efforts led by local and French forces.
Following Melgar’s sudden death, found by an autopsy to have been the result of “homicide by asphyxiation,” the two SEALs told their superiors that Melgar had been drunk and later became violent. However, Melgar’s autopsy showed no presence of alcohol or drugs at the time of his death and several sources, including Melgar’s wife, stated that he did not drink. Melgar’s wife later gave emails to investigators, including one in which Melgar told her that he had “a bad feeling” about two of his partners, both of whom were members of SEAL Team Six.
Now, as the Daily Beast reports, two special-operations sources have confirmed the likely reason for Melgar’s sudden death. Melgar had allegedly discovered that the two SEALs in question were illegally pocketing money from a fund used to pay informants in counterterrorism efforts.
The SEALs had offered to let Melgar in on the scheme, but Melgar refused. A day later he was dead.
The New York Times noted late last month that the investigation “threatened to stain” the sterling reputation of SEAL Team Six. Indeed, the unit has practically become a household name in the United States following its reported participation in a 2011 high-profile raid on a compound that was said to have housed Osama bin Laden — owing in part to the enshrinement of the raid in a high-profile movie and book that were later found to have been highly imaginative in their portrayal of events.
However, despite its fame and repute for allegedly having “taken out” Osama bin Laden, SEAL Team Six has been no stranger to controversy, and Melgar’s untimely death is just the latest in a string of incidents that highlight the group’s more sinister side.
“Global manhunting machine” with little accountability
SEAL Team Six’s dark side has become more well known in recent years — in parallel with the group’s transformation from small elite squadron to “global manhunting machine” that has killed numerous suspected militants, as well as civilians, over this period. The testimony of former members and officers has revealed that the much-celebrated SEAL team now regularly partakes in so-called “revenge ops,” extrajudicial killings, mutilations of the deceased and other war crimes – crimes that were not only tolerated by the command’s leadership but also covered up.
Numerous high-profile raids performed by the SEALs since 9/11– such as a 2009 rescue mission meant to deliver Capt. Richard Phillips from the hands of Somali pirates — illustrate the less glamorous side of the group. That operation saw members of SEAL Team Six shoot and kill pirates – though the authorization to shoot was never given – and saw over $30,000 in cash previously taken by the pirates disappear. Though the SEALs were suspected of stealing the money, the money was never found and no charges were ever filed for its disappearance nor for the group’s decision to shoot without authorization. Despite the controversy, the mission was turned into a Hollywood movie starring Tom Hanks.
In addition, the mutilation of the bodies of the deceased became fair game for members of SEAL Team Six, as evidenced by the widespread practice of “canoeing” — in which rounds are fired into the foreheads of the deceased in order to split open the skull and expose brain matter. The practice – referred to by a former SEAL Team Six leader as “sport” — became so common that the head of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), which oversees SEAL Team Six, was forced to require “full photographic accounting” of the dead to ensure mutilation was kept to a minimum.
Aside from such measures intended to rein in the group, SEAL Team Six is subject to minimal oversight. For instance, JSOC has self-investigated numerous inquiries of wrongdoing without passing them along to Navy investigators. In addition — according to Harold Koh, the State Department’s former top legal adviser, who provided guidance to the Obama administration on clandestine war — Congress has been largely uninterested in scrutinizing the command’s behavior. As a former SEAL Team Six leader told the Intercept, “You can’t win an investigation on us.”
Given SEAL Team Six’s culture of lawlessness and impunity, Sergeant Melgar’s death can hardly be seen as an isolated incident. Instead, Melgar’s death is just the latest confirmation that the most celebrated and mysterious group of the U.S. military continues to function with minimal oversight, control, and accountability — producing a climate in which criminality has become tolerated to the point that even other members of the U.S. military are not safe.