As everybody who reads or watches news has heard by now, Matt Bissonnette and Robert O’Neill are in big trouble with a government they served faithfully for little reward. Former SEALs Bissonnette and O’Neill were members of SEAL Team 6, a group that will live in history for a covert mission that took the life of Osama bin Laden, the man who claimed “credit” for the infamous attack on the U.S. that killed just under 3,000 people on September 11, 2001.
Some people fault the President for ordering what amounted to an assassination or for violating the territory of Pakistan, alleged to be an ally since September 11. Those are political debates worth having, but the actual carrying out of the mission was by people who had every reason to believe their chances of living to tell the story were not good.
After watching many people who were not on the mission tell the story, some SEALs have broken their code of silence. O’Neill gave a 2013 interview to Esquire, where he was identified only as “the Shooter,” but the magazine headlined his story “The Man Who Killed Osama bin Laden…is Screwed,” referring to his lack of meaningful retirement benefits or protection for his family. Bissonnette adopted the nom de plume “Mark Owen” and published an account of the bin Laden raid, No Easy Day, that turned into a best seller.
Neither man was able to remain incognito. The public ate up the story of the bin Laden raid in government versions and other fictions. Not one but two hit movies came from actual SEAL Team exploits recently, Captain Phillips (the rescue of a civilian ship captain from Somali pirates) and Zero Dark Thirty (a fictionalization of the bin Laden raid).
This Halloween, the commander of the Naval Special Warfare Command, Rear Admiral Brian Losey, and the Command’s senior enlisted sailor, Force Master Chief Michael Magaraci, released a letter to their troops admonishing, “At Naval Special Warfare’s core is the SEAL ethos. A critical tenant of our ethos is ‘I do not advertise the nature of my work, nor seek recognition for my actions.’ Our ethos is a life-long commitment and obligation, both in and out of the service. Violators of our ethos are neither teammates in good standing, nor teammates who represent Naval Special Warfare.”
Matt Bissonnette is under criminal investigation to determine whether his book contained classified information. Both he and Robert O’Neill are being criticized for, as The New York Times put it, “trading secrecy for swagger.” Both men have been attacked by unidentified sources disputing their exact roles in the bin Laden raid, but not even the anonymous critics have disputed their bravery.
Back when O’Neill was still just “the Shooter,” he related writing letters to his children to be delivered in the event he did not return from Pakistan and his personal estimate that the mission would take casualties at 90 percent.
The country Bissonnette and O’Neill served to defend has a long history of a free press that should protect their decision to tell their stories. ICTMN readers have recent memories of men whose stories were suppressed by a hypocritical government until many of them had walked on. Which is to point out that the country Bissonnette and O’Neill served to defend has a long history of hypocrisy.