A former U.S. Navy SEAL commando who took part in the daring raid to kill Osama bin Laden has exposed as false part of the account put out by the Obama administration on how the al Qaeda leader died.
The former SEAL, writing under the pseudonym Mark Owen, stated in his new book No Easy Day that bin Laden was not killed by SEALs inside his bedroom as he stood near an AK-47 assault rifle and pistol.
Instead, bin Laden was fatally shot in the head by a SEAL advancing up a stairway to the third floor in his Abbottabad, Pakistan, house, after bin Laden had looked out of the doorway of his room some 10 feet away.
Several minutes later, SEALs entered the room and found what was determined to be bin Laden convulsing in death throes. He was then finished off by two SEALs, including Owen, who fired numerous shots into his chest.
Until the book was released Sept. 3, the White House, Pentagon, and CIA allowed an inaccurate version of the final confrontation with bin Laden to stand as the official record of how the world’s most notorious terrorist leader and mastermind behind the September 11 terror attacks had died.
Initially, White House National Security counterterrorism chief John Brennan said bin Laden was shot as he tried to use his wife as a shield inside the third-floor bedroom.
That version from May 2, 2011—the day after the commando raid—was changed on May 3 when administration officials then stated that commandos had shot bin Laden inside his room.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters during a briefing that the earlier inaccurate information had been made public in “great haste.”
In an attempt to correct the record, Carney said that when SEALs reached the third floor of the residence, “in the room with bin Laden, a woman—bin Laden’s—a woman, rather, bin Laden’s wife, rushed the U.S. assaulter and was shot in the leg but not killed. Bin Laden was then shot and killed. He was not armed.”
In Owen’s account, a group of SEALs were advancing up a stairway to the third floor of the house in darkness using night vision goggles to see.
“We were less than five steps from getting to the top when I heard suppressed shots. BOP. BOP,” he wrote. “The point man had seen a man peeking out of the door on the right side of a narrow hallway about ten feet in front of him,” Owen stated. “The man disappeared into the dark room.”
The commandos then slowly moved to the open doorway. “Unlike the movies, we didn’t bound up the final few steps and rush into the room with guns blazing. We took our time.”
The commandos were worried that they were in danger of being shot or blown up because the element of surprise was lost when their helicopter crashed inside the walled compound, alerting those inside and allowing them to grab weapons or strap on explosives-laden suicide bomb vests.
After reaching the room, the SEALs saw two women “hysterically crying” as they stood over a man lying at the foot of the bed, Owen wrote.
One commando then grabbed both women and moved them to a far corner of the room. One had a minor gunshot wound to her calf, most likely from a bullet fragment from the first two shots fired from the hallway.
“If either woman had on a suicide vest, [the SEAL] probably saved our lives, but it would have cost him his own. It was a selfless decision made in a split second,” Owen said.
On the floor, the wounded man’s head had a hole in the forehead and had been split open with blood and brains spilling out.
As the body twitched, “another assaulter and I trained our lasers on his chest and fired several rounds,” Owen wrote. “The bullets tore into him, slamming his body into the floor until it was motionless.”
“I think this is our boy,” said one SEAL, who avoided using the name bin Laden because of concerns “President Obama was listening” to their radio communications, and they did not want to be wrong.
Photos of bin Laden were taken and DNA samples were tested. The body was then flown to a ship and dumped in the sea.
Owen said after confirming the kill: “It was strange to see such an infamous face up close. Lying in front of me was the reason we had been fighting for the last decade.”
The president and his reelection campaign have used the successful commando raid to kill bin Laden to tout the president’s national security successes.
Asked about the discrepancies between the White House version of events and Owen’s account, White House National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor would not say why the White House did not put out a correct record of events for the raid.
But Vietor did say, repeating what he earlier had told Associated Press, that “as President Obama said on the night that justice was brought to Osama bin Laden, ‘We give thanks for the men who carried out this operation, for they exemplify the professionalism, patriotism, and unparalleled courage of those who serve our country.'"
“We don’t have additional comment,” he told the Free Beacon.
A senior administration official said: "We stand by our account of what happened."
Owen was a team leader of SEAL Team Six, the covert commando team trained for special operations, specifically counterterrorism missions. The formal name for the team is Naval Special Warfare Development Group, or Devgru.
Owen recalled telling one of his colleagues that as a result of the successful raid the SEALs had just helped reelect the president.
The administration and the military have criticized the book.
Pentagon General Counsel Jeh Johnson, a political appointee, accused Owen and his publisher Penguin Putnam of violating Owen’s nondisclosure agreement by publishing the book without submitting it for security review in advance.
Owen’s lawyer denied the claims.
Johnson in a letter stated that Owen was in material breach of his secrecy agreement and that legal action against him is being considered.
The book is expected to be a bestseller and Owen has promised to give all the proceeds to charities that help families of fallen SEALs.
Owen and his co-writer Kevin Maurer could not be reached for comment; a Penguin spokeswoman declined to comment.
Pentagon spokesman George Little said Tuesday “we continue to review our options” regarding legal action.
On the book’s contents, “We do have concerns about some of the sensitive information that we believe is contained in it,” Little said, noting, “This is a very serious concern that we have.”
“When it comes to sensitive special operations missions, such as the operation that took down Osama bin Laden, it is important that those who are involved in such operations take care to protect sensitive and classified information,” he said.
“And if I had been part of the raid team on the ground and I had decided to write a book about it, it wouldn't have been a tough decision for me to submit the book for pre-publication review. That is common sense. It's a no-brainer. And it did not happen.”