The U.S. Navy has decided to postpone the Article 32 hearing of the two Navy SEALs and two Marine Raiders suspected of killing a Special Forces Staff Sergeant in Bamako, Mali, in 2017.

The hearings were scheduled to take place on December 10. Navy officials didn’t provide a reason for the postponement. Instead, they indicated that the Article 32 hearing will be held in March 2019.

The two SEALs were assigned to the Naval Special Warfare Development Group (DEVGRU). The two Marine Raiders were part of the Marine Special Operations Command (MARSOC). They have been accused of assaulting, tying, and choking to death SSG Logan Melgar, a Green Beret assigned to the 3rd Special Forces Group. Reports indicate that Melgar had caught his fellow operators stealing operational funds that were intended to be used to gain intelligence of terrorist groups in Mali.

If the four operators are found guilty, they are faced with the death penalty or life imprisonment.

Interestingly, at around the same time, the Department of Defence is expected to have completed a separate inquiry on the U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM). More specifically, the DoD will investigate, among others, three key topics:  first, the professionalism and ethics standards of SOCOM; second, the ethics and professionalism programs that the command has available for its soldiers, marines, sailors, and airmen; and third, how SOCOM and its subordinate commands – that is, the Army Special Operations Command (ARSOC), the Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC), the Marine Special Operations Command (MARSOC), and the Naval Special Warfare Command (NSWC) – administer, oversee, manage, and ensure that their troops undergo ethics and professionalism training.

Lately, the special operations community has been plagued by scandals, which, although a minority, taint the image and reputation of America’s elite forces. Hitherto, there hasn’t been a concrete precedent set on how to prosecute such cases. It is politically hard to go after decorated veterans who have done multiple combat deployments, many being wounded in the process. However, the military can’t throw the cases under the carpet anymore. Thus, there is an expectation that they ought to begin from somewhere; that an example must be made to deter troops from similar behaviour in the future.

This suggests that Chief Special Warfare Operator Edward “Eddie” Gallagher is set to receive the first blow, and thus set the precedent. The Navy SEAL has been charged with 18 violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). Among others, he allegedly murdered an underaged ISIS prisoner by repeatedly stabbing him in the neck and body with a hunting knife, he obstructed justice by cajoling his fellow SEALs to remain silent, and he abused banned substances. He is currently confined in a Navy brig waiting for his trial to begin.