The “I” In SEAL Team Six

Last week, former Navy SEAL Robert James O’Neill outed himself as the man responsible for killing Osama bin Laden:

O’Neill confirmed to The Washington Post that he was the unnamed SEAL who was first to tumble through the doorway of bin Laden’s bedroom that night, taking aim at the terrorist leader as he stood in darkness behind his youngest wife. In an account later confirmed by two other SEALs, the Montana native described firing the round that hit bin Laden squarely in the forehead, killing him instantly.

However, other sources dispute O’Neill’s account:

Shortly after the Post story went up, Reuters reported that “a source close to another SEAL team member” was contesting O’Neill’s story. The source said two other men entered the room before O’Neill, and one of them fired the fatal shot. According to the Post, O’Neill acknowledged that shots were fired at bin Laden by at least two other SEALs, but he says it was his bullet that killed the terrorist leader.

A former SEAL Team Six member told the New York Times that before tackling the women, the point man managed to wound bin Laden with a shot to his side. … Then there’s the version of events presented in No Easy Day, penned by former SEAL Matt Bissonnette. In the 2012 book, Bissonnette writes that the point man shot bin Laden in the head, and then he and another SEAL fired more shots. “In his death throes, he was still twitching and convulsing,” Bissonnette wrote. “Another assaulter and I trained our lasers on his chest and fired several rounds.”

Mark Thomson shakes his head at the very idea of crediting a single SEAL with the kill:

O’Neill’s and Bissonnette’s decisions to go public with their role violates the SEALs’ tenets and irritates many in the military. These SEALs, in the eyes of the public, become heroes once their stories are told. But the action that warrants such acclaim has been built on the backs, boots and blood of thousands of anonymous troops (not to mention Pentagon civilians). An untold number of them played critical roles in the hunt for bin Laden; remove any one from the chain of success and the mission could have failed, with the loss of O’Neill, Bissonnette and the other SEALs who participated in the raid.…

It is the selfless nature of American troops that makes their work honorable. Both the public and the press seemingly relish identifying such SEALs, and glorifying their exploits, without care for what may be lost in the transaction. If fame, and the fortune it can bring, become part of the allure of signing up with U.S. Special Operations Command, the men and women who actually make those missions possible are going to sour on their private sacrifice. The net result will be a less-capable force.