The March issue of Esquire magazine – it’s due to hit the newsstands Feb. 19 – has a lengthy story about the plight of the Navy SEAL who claims he fired the three shots that killed terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden.
The former SEAL, whose identity the magazine did not reveal, is referred to as “The Shooter” in an article written by San Francisco-based investigative journalist Phil Bronstein. The magazine’s cover image screams “The Man Who Killed Osama Bin Laden…Is Screwed.”
Bronstein took to NBC’s “Today” show earlier today to talk about the article and the SEAL who killed bin Laden and watched him take his last breath. “He so far has resisted the idea of writing a book,” Bronstein told host Matt Lauer, who peppered him with questions about The Shooter and his story. How do we know if this SEAL he spoke with really pulled the trigger? Bronstein said he’s spoken with lots of SEALs, sharing meals with those who purportedly know, including one he calls the “mentor.”
Bronstein, executive chairman of the Center for Investigative Reporting, reprints the article in a post on his online blog and discusses interactions he had with the SEAL:
“I would come to know about the Shooter’s hundreds of combat missions, his twelve long-term SEAL-team deployments, his thirty-plus kills of enemy combatants, often eyeball to eyeball. And we would talk for hours about the mission to get bin Laden and about how, over the celebrated corpse in front of them on a tarp in a hangar in Jalalabad, he had given the magazine from his rifle with all but three lethally spent bullets left in it to the female CIA analyst whose dogged intel work and intuition led the fighters into that night.”
“But a series of confidential conversations, detailed descriptions of mission debriefs, and other evidence make it clear: The Shooter’s is the most definitive account of those crucial few seconds, and his account, corroborated by multiple sources, establishes him as the last man to see Osama bin Laden alive. Not in dispute is the fact that others have claimed that they shot bin Laden when he was already dead, and a number of team members apparently did just that.”
Bronstein wrote how he sat next to the SEAL and his uncle as they watched the movie about the famous raid, “Zero Dark Thirty,” in January. The SEAL laughed at the choice of phrases and criticized details of the path the helicopters took over bin Laden’s Pakistan compound. Bin Laden’s death aside, the Esquire article explores the SEAL’s plight and struggles after hanging up his uniform and reentering civilian life as a man with no resume’ to brag about, and with concerns about his and his family’s safety. The Navy SEAL, as Bronstein describes, left military service after serving 16 years, but the article offers no explanation as to why he separated from the Navy short of the regular 20-year retirement that would have given him a lifetime pension and health care.
In the article, the SEAL, described as married with children, said he no longer has military medical insurance and instead shells out $484 a month for private health insurance. Bronstein, on “Today,” said many veterans suffer long waits to get their claims adjudicated. But he didn’t detail this SEAL’s situation, although he mentioned his struggle with “wartime pains,” and it’s not clear the status of any VA disability claim. The Shooter complained to him that the Navy pretty much gave him a swift kick out of the service and provided no transitioning help.
The Navy, in a statement, said many details of the bin Laden mission are in the public record. “We have no information to corroborate these new assertions,” officials said. “We take seriously the safety and security of our people, as well as our responsibility to assist sailors making a transition to civilian life. Without more information about this particular case, it would be difficult to determine the degree to which our transition programs succeeded.”
Read it for yourself and let us know what you think.