SEAL who shot Osama: 'Everybody wanted him dead, but no one wanted to say it'

Senior Editor
02.12.13 32 Comments

Esquire has a big feature on the SEAL who shot Osama Bin Laden, headlined “The Man Who Killed Osama bin Laden… Is Screwed,” and if that doesn’t make you want to read it, nothing I can say is going to. It’s a great (and necessary) read, but for our purposes, the section on the actual Bin Laden killing is of interest. One of the main thrusts of criticism in my Zero Dark Thirty review was that it didn’t show a single discussion about whether the Bin Laden mission was a kill mission, and that no one ever even used a euphemism for killing when they were talking about it ahead of time. I thought it was weak that they just left that out. Since I pride myself on admitting it when I’m wrong, I can admit that I was at least half wrong about that, at least as it pertained to the SEALs. As it pertained to the SEALs, the way the shooter tells it, the mission went down just as the movie depicted:

Everybody wanted him dead, but nobody wanted to say, Hey, you’re going to kill this guy. It was just sort of understood that’s what we wanted to do.

Here’s a longer passage:

There was bin Laden standing there. He had his hands on a woman’s shoulders, pushing her ahead, not exactly toward me but by me, in the direction of the hallway commotion. It was his youngest wife, Amal.
He looked confused. And way taller than I was expecting. He had a cap on and didn’t appear to be hit. I can’t tell you 100 percent, but he was standing and moving. He was holding her in front of him. Maybe as a shield, I don’t know.

For me, it was a snapshot of a target ID, definitely him. Even in our kill houses where we train, there are targets with his face on them. This was repetition and muscle memory. That’s him, boom, done.
I thought in that first instant how skinny he was, how tall and how short his beard was, all at once. He was wearing one of those white hats, but he had, like, an almost shaved head. Like a crew cut. I remember all that registering. I was amazed how tall he was, taller than all of us, and it didn’t seem like he would be, because all those guys were always smaller than you think.

I’m just looking at him from right here [he moves his hand out from his face about ten inches]. He’s got a gun on a shelf right there, the short AK he’s famous for. And he’s moving forward. I don’t know if she’s got a vest and she’s being pushed to martyr them both. He’s got a gun within reach. He’s a threat. I need to get a head shot so he won’t have a chance to clack himself off [blow himself up].

In that second, I shot him, two times in the forehead. Bap! Bap! The second time as he’s going down. He crumpled onto the floor in front of his bed and I hit him again, Bap! same place. That time I used my EOTech red-dot holo sight. He was dead. Not moving. His tongue was out. I watched him take his last breaths, just a reflex breath.

And I remember as I watched him breathe out the last part of air, I thought: Is this the best thing I’ve ever done, or the worst thing I’ve ever done? This is real and that’s him. Holy shit.

Everybody wanted him dead, but nobody wanted to say, Hey, you’re going to kill this guy. It was just sort of understood that’s what we wanted to do.

His forehead was gruesome. It was split open in the shape of a V. I could see his brains spilling out over his face. The American public doesn’t want to know what that looks like.

Laremy and I have had some heated discussions about this movie, which he loves, but I think is overly sanitized and kind of bullshit. I may have gotten the lack of discussion about killing Bin Laden wrong (at least as it pertained to the SEALs – by all accounts that discussion did happen at higher levels, which the movie was supposedly depicting), but I still think that in a general way, it failed to depict the brain-spilling reality of the actual event. Laremy thinks Zero Dark Thirty is the best we could possibly hope for from Hollywood, and that’s probably true, but that doesn’t mean we have to act like this movie was “unflinching,” or that every review has to talk about how it “doesn’t shy away from blood…” or that it was “matter of fact” or blah blah blah. Zero Dark Thirty could only be considered matter of fact or unflinching in the context of everything else being even more ridiculously sanitized. It offered us a dry, procedural account of something that everyone already thinks of as dry and procedural. I thought Kathryn Bigelow owed us a little more blood and guts, that’s all. It was only a small step towards making us feel the gravity of that situation, and I thought it could’ve been a much bigger one.

But enough about what I think, here’s the account of the shooter himself watching the movie:

“They torture the shit out of people in this movie, don’t they? Everyone is chained to something.”
The Shooter is sitting next to me at a local movie theater in January, watching Zero Dark Thirty for the first time. He laughs at the beginning of the film about the bin Laden hunt when the screen reads, “Based on firsthand accounts of actual events.”
“I saw the original,” the Shooter said. As the action moves toward the mission itself, I ask the Shooter whether his heart is beating faster. “No,” he says matter-of-factly. But when a SEAL Team 6 movie character yells, “Breacher!” for someone to blow one of the doors of the Abbottabad compound, the Shooter says loudly, “Are you f*cking kidding me? Shut up!”
He explains afterward that no one would ever yell, “Breacher!” during an assault. Deadly silence is standard practice, a fist to the helmet sufficient signal for a SEAL with explosive packets to go to work.
During the shooting sequence, which passes, like the real one, in a flash, his fingers form a steeple under his chin and his focus is intense.
But his criticisms at dinner afterward are minor.
“The tattoo scene was horrible,” he says about a moment in the film when the ST6 assault group is lounging in Afghanistan waiting to go. “Those guys had little skulls or something instead of having some real ink that goes up to here.” He points to his shoulder blade.
“It was fun to watch. There was just little stuff. The helos turned the wrong way [toward the target], and they talked way, way too much [during the assault itself]. If someone was waiting for you, they could track your movements that way.”
The tactics on the screen “sucked,” he says, and “the mission in the damn movie took way too long” compared with the actual event. The stairs inside bin Laden’s building were configured inaccurately. A dog in the film was a German shepherd; the real one was a Belgian Malinois who’d previously been shot in the chest and survived. And there’s no talking on the choppers in real life.
There was also no whispered calling out of bin Laden as the SEALs stared up the third-floor stairwell toward his bedroom. “When Osama went down, it was chaos, people screaming. No one called his name.”
“They Hollywooded it up some.”
The portrayal of the chief CIA human bloodhound, “Maya,” based on a real woman whose iron-willed assurance about the compound and its residents moved a government to action, was “awesome” says the Shooter. “They made her a tough woman, which she is.”

Check out the rest here. The SEAL, by the way, is recently retired (without pension or benefits, incredibly). The CIA agent on whom Maya was based, incidentally, is also supposedly having trouble at work. Such thankless jobs, this doing important stuff. You see? This is why I made sure to get a job where I would never affect anyone ever.

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