Esquire has a first-hand account given by an unnamed U.S. Navy SEAL (referred to as “the Shooter”) who killed Osama bin Laden.
Obama administration officials have claimed that bin Laden would have been captured if that was possible. This account suggests otherwise.
Given that bin Laden was shot while standing inside a pitch-black room — the Shooter could see him through his nightscopes; given that the SEAL was struck by how skinny bin Laden appeared — an indication that he was not wearing a suicide vest; and given that he was visibly confused as he groped around in the darkness, there seems little reason to believe that capturing bin Laden would have been unfeasible.
If President Obama knew that the death of the al Qaeda leader would provide a political reward of inestimable value, he also knew that the detention and trial of bin Laden could easily become a massive liability to his presidency.
Where would bin Laden be detained? Where could he be put on trial? Would there be any risk of failing to convict him on the most serious charges? If tried, convicted, and executed, would the lengthy process end up elevating his status as a martyr?
Even if Obama didn’t issue an order to kill, no one seems to have been in any doubt that this was the goal of the mission. Indeed, has not kill, don’t capture become the signature of a president who banned torture and promised to shut down Guantanamo?
The goal was to execute bin Laden and capitalize on a broadly felt desire for vengeance.
If he had still actually posed a real threat to America, he would also have been a source of invaluable intelligence. The White House’s calculation, however, seems to have been that bin Laden’s dead body was worth far more than any information he could share.
There was bin Laden standing there. He had his hands on a woman’s shoulders, pushing her ahead, not exactly toward me but by me, in the direction of the hallway commotion. It was his youngest wife, Amal.
The SEALs had nightscopes, but it was coal-black for bin Laden and the other residents. He can hear but he can’t see.
He looked confused. And way taller than I was expecting. He had a cap on and didn’t appear to be hit [by shots fired in his direction earlier]. I can’t tell you 100 percent, but he was standing and moving. He was holding her in front of him. Maybe as a shield, I don’t know.
For me, it was a snapshot of a target ID, definitely him. Even in our kill houses where we train, there are targets with his face on them. This was repetition and muscle memory. That’s him, boom, done.
I thought in that first instant how skinny he was, how tall and how short his beard was, all at once. He was wearing one of those white hats, but he had, like, an almost shaved head. Like a crew cut. I remember all that registering. I was amazed how tall he was, taller than all of us, and it didn’t seem like he would be, because all those guys were always smaller than you think.
I’m just looking at him from right here [he moves his hand out from his face about ten inches]. He’s got a gun on a shelf right there, the short AK he’s famous for. And he’s moving forward. I don’t know if she’s got a vest and she’s being pushed to martyr them both. He’s got a gun within reach. He’s a threat. I need to get a head shot so he won’t have a chance to clack himself off [blow himself up].
In that second, I shot him, two times in the forehead. Bap! Bap! The second time as he’s going down. He crumpled onto the floor in front of his bed and I hit him again, Bap! same place. That time I used my EOTech red-dot holo sight. He was dead. Not moving. His tongue was out. I watched him take his last breaths, just a reflex breath.
And I remember as I watched him breathe out the last part of air, I thought: Is this the best thing I’ve ever done, or the worst thing I’ve ever done? This is real and that’s him. Holy shit.
Everybody wanted him dead, but nobody wanted to say, Hey, you’re going to kill this guy. It was just sort of understood that’s what we wanted to do.