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I Killed Osama bin Laden

There are several stories about the assault on the Abbottabad, Pakistan, compound that resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden. The accounts, however, differ in the details of who fired the bullet that put bin Laden down. While the U.S. Naval Special Warfare Special Mission Unit (SMU) SEALs who conducted the attack have been reserved in their comments, authors and reporters have nevertheless produced conflicting versions of bin Laden’s last minutes.

Let’s clear this up right now. I killed Osama bin Laden, and if you’re an American, you did too.

No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission That Killed Osama Bin Laden

No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission That Killed Osama Bin Laden, by Mark Owen, with Kevin Maurer; Dutton Adult; 316 pages

In his excellent book, No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission That Killed Osama Bin Laden, an SMU SEAL (writing under the pen name, Mark Owen) offers a detailed account of how the attack in Abbottabad went down. By his recollection, three SEALs climbed the final staircase, with the trio’s point man firing on and killing bin Laden when he poked his head around a door frame. A recent Esquire article, however, reports that two SEALs ascended the stairs, missing their mark on the way up and firing on a healthy, standing bin Laden when they entered the room. A third story comes from author Mark Bowden’s The Finish: The Killing of Osama bin Ladenwhich drew on high-level interviews to reveal that three SEALs went up the stairs and into the room. In Bowden’s version, the first SEAL through the door tackled two nearby (potentially bomb-laden) women, while a second SEAL shot bin Laden in the head and chest. (Adding to the confusion, Bowden’s book later contained an insert calling Owen’s version accurate.)

Still another account is found in Chuck Pfarrer’s book, SEAL Target Geronimo: The Inside Story of the Mission to Kill Osama bin Laden. According to Pfarrer, the SEALs landed on the compound roof, inserting directly into the top floor and shooting bin Laden 90 seconds later as he lunged across a bed to reach an assault rifle. And all these stories differ from the reports that emerged in the days immediately following the assault, which stated bin Laden pulled one of his wives between himself and the SEALs, apparently as a shield against his imminent end.

Ultimately, the only people who will ever know exactly how the final attack occurred are the people who were there – the SEALs who entered the room and the women who were hiding there with bin Laden. While it is understandable that the American public has such an intense interest in how bin Laden died, there is also a certain lack of responsibility in debating and questioning who fired the fatal shot.

Ultimately, the only people who will ever know exactly how the final attack occurred are the people who were there – the SEALs who entered the room and the women who were hiding there with bin Laden. While it is understandable that the American public has such an intense interest in how bin Laden died, there is also a certain lack of responsibility in debating and questioning who fired the fatal shot.

Owen writes in No Easy Day that any of the SMU SEALs could have been called to the Abbottabad mission; those who went were those who were available. This is an extreme amount of modesty, but it gets at the larger point that conflicting news stories seem to miss. Any of the SEALs could have pulled the trigger – the man who did was in the right place at the right time. This makes the details of who did what and when less relevant than the valor and professionalism of all the warriors who went to Pakistan.

Osama Bin Laden's Death

A crowd cheers and chants in excitement at the corner of Vesey and Liberty Streets next to ground zero after hearing that Osama Bin Laden is dead. Bin Laden planned the Sept 11, 2001, attacks and has been hunted by American forces in the years since. He was killed on May 1, 2011, during a raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan, near the country’s capital. The Freedom Tower, the skyscraper being built where the World Trade Center towers once stood, is now 60 stories tall and was lit up and visible from the street. Eventually the Freedom Tower will be the tallest building in the country. U.S. Department of Defense photo by Sgt. Randall Clinton

Yet, the SEALs could not have reached the compound without the skilled pilots who flew stealth versions of Black Hawk helicopters, one of which was safely crash-landed. The team would not have been in Pakistan to begin with absent diligent CIA intelligence work. As shown in the recent Hollywood blockbuster Zero Dark Thirty, as well as in Owen’s account, this intelligence effort is attributed to a single, relentless CIA employee who tracked bin Laden down. She drew on CIA resources, including agency human assets, to gather the critical information, and the ultimate decision to launch the raid rested with higher-level CIA officers, as well as people within the Department of Defense and the White House.

All of these people worked together to find and kill bin Laden, and all of them are employees of our representative government. One SEAL may have pulled the trigger, but 313 million of us put a bullet in bin Laden’s head. This is not meant to detract from the praiseworthy efforts of those directly involved in the hunt and assault. Yet, in the United States, we share responsibility in all things – our successes as well as our failures. We elect representatives, we pay taxes to employ them and others in the public sector, and we appropriately stand behind the first words of the Constitution: “we, the people.”

Yet the country should also embrace the reality that no matter who shot bin Laden, we all share responsibility in the victory cry, “For God and country, Geronimo, Geronimo, Geronimo.”

When bin Laden and al Qaeda supporters flew planes into the World Trade Center and Pentagon, and crashed another hijacked plane when passengers attempted to regain control of the aircraft, it was an attack on all Americans, not just the people in those buildings and on those planes. Every soldier who went to Afghanistan, every government employee who made tough decisions, and every American taxpayer shared in the response. Bin Laden attacked America, and it was America that entered Abbottabad in the dead of night.

The country owes a debt of gratitude to its airmen, Coast Guard members, Marines, sailors, and soldiers, not least of which were the SEALs who risked life and limb to take out the world’s worst terrorist. This debt can never be repaid with equal risk and consequence, and Americans would do well to remember that. Yet the country should also embrace the reality that no matter who shot bin Laden, we all share responsibility in the victory cry, “For God and country, Geronimo, Geronimo, Geronimo.”

By

Justin Hienz writes on counterterrorism, violent extremism and homeland security. In addition to his journalistic...

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    My thoughts go back to the Song Te(sp?) raid. A comparison was made to Desert One not the most daring one in North Vietnam. Nothing high tech just broken down birds and old guys. May they rest in peace for this was the beginning ognthe”Unit” Great article.