Bin Laden Shooter Dispute: Who’s The Real American Hero?

By Philip Ross on March 27, 2013 12:11 PM EDT

osama compound
The compound in Abottabad, Pakistan, where some believe Osama bin Laden hid for up to five years and where Navy SEAL’s killed the Al Qaeda leader on May 2, 2011. (Photo: Creative Commons)

The Bin Laden Shooter dispute has caused a clash between media titans, with CNN now reporting that another Navy SEAL Team 6 member has come forward to debunk the Esquire magazine account of what happened in Abbottabad, Pakistan, on May 2, 2011, and to make clear who shot the al-Qaeda leader and world's most wanted terrorist.

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The Esquire piece from earlier this year by Phil Bronstein titled "The Man Who Killed Osama bin Laden ... Is Screwed" follows a man called the Shooter, the anonymous Navy SEAL Team 6 member who says he killed Osama bin Laden. Esquire published the article in their March issue and received tons of attention for it. According to the Shooter, he entered bin Laden's room and came face-to-face with the al-Qaeda leader. The Shooter said he saw bin Laden reach for a gun, at which point he shot the terrorist twice in the forehead.

The Shooter's story differs wildly from that in the book No Easy Day, a firsthand memoir by SEAL Team 6 member Matt Bissonnette published in Sept. 2012 in which the SEAL tells his version of the raid on bin Laden's compound. Bissonnette, who originally wrote the book under a pseudonym, Mark Owen, said the "point man" on the team, not the Shooter from the Esquire story, shot bin Laden as the SEAL was coming up the stairs to the third-floor bedroom.

This morning, CNN's national security analyst Peter Bergen published a story titled "Who Really Killed bin Laden?" in which he interviewed a new source about the night when 23 SEALs stormed bin Laden's compound. Bergen spoke with a man he calls SEAL Team 6 operator, who said that the Shooter's account of bin Laden's death is "complete B-S", and confirmed Bissonett's version of events. The SEAL Team 6 operator, who was not in the compound with the other Navy SEALs during the mission, told Bergen it was the "point man" who shot bin Laden.

Stephanie Tuck, a spokeswoman for Esquire, told CNN over email, "The Esquire article ... is based on information from numerous sources, including members of SEAL Team 6 and the Shooter himself, as well as detailed descriptions of mission debriefs. We stand by our story."

This entire dispute over what exactly happened when SEAL members encountered the world's most wanted terrorist seems a bit like a contest of egos, with each new source coming out of the shadows claiming he knows the true details of bin Laden's final moments. It's made all the more convoluted since the only three people to really know what happened (excluding the women who were in the bedroom with bin Laden at the time of the raid) remain anonymous, with the exception of Bissonnette. But the story makes for good drama, and is also big money, with Oscar-winning films being made and a deluge of books and articles being written about it; as the Atlantic Wire points out, Bissonett is making a ton of money from his book deal.

Will we ever really know what happened in that compound in Abbottabad on May 2, 2011? Who is the true American hero? Do we even need to know?

Bergen writes, "What seems incontrovertible is that the point man, the Shooter and Bissonnette were the first three SEALs to assault bin Laden's bedroom. But to determine exactly which of them killed bin Laden may never be possible."

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