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Barking SEALs on Osama bin Laden killer

Loose lips at Danny's and McP's in Coronado

Robert O’Neill in Liberia
Robert O’Neill in Liberia

One thing you know: in Coronado, at SEAL hangouts such as Danny’s Palm Bar and McP’s Irish Pub, the talk has been all Robert O’Neill. Matt Bissonnette. Team Six. The Shooter. The Point Man. Zero Dark Thirty. No Easy Day. FOX News.

Robert O’Neill

O’Neill, 38, spilled the beans on FOX about how he had been the shooter who killed Osama Bin Laden in his compound near Abbottabad, Pakistan, on May 2, 2011. Three pulls of his trigger. In doing so, the Chief Petty Officer in the U.S. Navy SEALs brought to a shattering end the life of perhaps the most feared man in recent history.

So, what’s wrong with recognizing and celebrating the shooter, the guy who has given this country a little taste of revenge? Because many are saying O’Neill has been wrong to speak out, to go public. This revelation, they say, should have stayed “in-house.”

No Comment

But is that really how fellow-SEALs and ex-SEALs feel? This is why Saturday night I’m heading for Danny’s Palm Bar.

You know it’s their place as soon as you flap through the cowboy doors. The walls are covered with the photos of SEALs who have died in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan. Young men, in the prime of life, smiling out from the wall above the bar.

It’s crowded. Lots of hard-body males, beautiful women.

“You a SEAL?”

I’m asking this guy on the stool next to me.

Sponsored
Sponsored

“Marines. Force Recon,” he says.

Pretty much same difference, from what I’ve heard. I start telling him I’m a scribbler and interested in what fellow Special Forces think about the fuss over O’Neill.

“Was he wrong to go public?” I ask.

He looks at me a moment. “No comment.”

“I mean, he got the job done, shouldn’t he get some credit?”

The way he says “No comment” the second time tells me this is not going any further.

And that’s the way it is. At McP’s, the same. I ask one guy. He doesn’t even bother to answer. Just moves away.

“He doesn’t talk much,” says the guy next to him as he gets up. “Nor do I.”

But I have better luck the next day.

Letter reminding teammates of the SEAL ethos: “I do not advertise the nature of my work, nor seek recognition for my actions.”

“People are really reticent to talk now,” says Joe (not his real name), who’s a rangy ex-SEAL I meet on Orange Avenue. He started his career in the Vietnam era. “We have all received a letter, past and present SEALs, from the two most senior SEAL commanders, Force Master Chief Michael Magaraci and Rear Admiral Brian Losey, saying keep your mouths shut. And I agree with them. Any advertisement like this individual [has done] is exposing people and causing endangerment to their operations.”

But O’Neill says the cat was already out of the bag. Members of Congress knew he was the guy who shot bin Laden. Some members of the media already knew. He was going to be outed anyway.

“See, that’s it,” says Joe. “How did they find out about it? Other Navy SEALs told them for money? Did one of the wives tell? Of course there were loads of civilians on that operation. Civilians and CIA. Some [choppered in] to collect evidence. Lots of others were at the base [in Afghanistan]. The leak could have come from any one of them. People don’t get it: we operate in secrecy. Our effectiveness depends on it. We don’t respect the publicity-seekers among us.”

This is part of the October 31 letter all SEALs received:

“Teammates…at Naval Special Warfare’s core is the SEAL Ethos…‘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. We do not abide willful or selfish disregard for our core values in return for public notoriety and financial gain, which only diminishes otherwise honorable service, courage and sacrifice…. We will actively seek judicial consequence for members who willfully violate the law, and place our Teammates, our Families, and potential future operations at risk.

“Continue to serve with honor, on and off the battlefield.”

Fifteen seconds

And yet, what a story to keep from the public.

O’Neill grew up in Butte, Montana. Joined at 19. Over 16 years, he deployed on more than a dozen tours of duty in active combat in four war zones, including Iraq and Afghanistan. Was involved in more than 400 combat missions. Carried out more than 30 confirmed “kills.” Decorated 52 times. Was the lead jumper on Maersk Alabama, the ship taken over by Somali pirates (Captain Phillips), and helped save SEAL Marcus Luttrell, Lone Survivor (the title of a book he helped write) of a mission to capture a Taliban leader in Afghanistan. Details of three of O’Neill’s missions have been turned into Hollywood action hits. He’s now on the motivational speaking circuit.

But on the night in Abbottabad, O’Neill, ginger-headed husband and father who looks like Britain’s Prince Harry, jumped off the helicopter in Osama bin Laden’s private garden, expecting to be greeted by everything from booby traps to heavily armed gunmen.

“I didn’t think I would survive,” he said.

And the actual moment of confronting bin Laden? “I rolled past [the lead man] into the room, just inside the doorway,” he told Esquire Magazine. “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.”

Bin Laden looked confused and “taller” than O’Neill expected. O’Neill feared the woman was wearing a suicide vest. He says he saw bin Laden’s AK-47 on a shelf.

“I need to have a head shot so he won’t have a chance to clack himself off,” he said. “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.”

Bin Laden’s wife was screaming and O’Neill realized that a child was present, too — bin Laden’s youngest son. The point man — still nameless — then entered the room and zip-tied the two women he had already grabbed.

The entire episode was over in 15 seconds.

You knew better

“Well, all I can say is O’Neill should change his name and his children’s name,” says Joe the ex-SEAL. “He should move, because he just exposed himself and all the people around him.”

O’Neill’s wife seems to agree. “Personally I feel more threatened by a potential retaliatory attack on our community than I did eight years ago,” she told Esquire in 2013. “We’re actually looking into changing my name, changing the kids’ names, taking my husband’s name off the house, paying off our cars. Essentially deleting him from our lives, but for safety reasons. We still love each other.”

But O’Neill’s father, Tom, is defiant: “People are asking if we are worried that ISIS will come and get us because Rob is going public. I say I’ll paint a big target on my front door and say come and get us. My ex-wife gave birth to a man. We shouldn’t be cowering in fear.”

“I’m not questioning his courage,” says Pat (not his real name), a muscular ex-frogman from Imperial Beach. “But this guy publicizing the whole thing makes the Teams a big joke. We did jobs. We didn’t talk about it. And how can you believe his claims [to have fired the killing shot at bin Laden]? Believe me, in 15-second actions like that it’s like a bar melée. Who threw the punch that decked the guy? You’ll never know. He can’t claim it was his bullet killed bin Laden because none of those bullets was autographed.

“Bottom line: he has tainted our reputation. There was a time when no-one knew we existed. That was how it was supposed to be! Now we’re the rock stars. I can take you to any bookstore and show you six to ten books by authors who’ve ‘been there.’ Nobody else does it. You don’t hear Army Rangers coming out with tell-all books. You don’t hear the Marine Force Recon guys. You don’t get CIA operatives. You certainly don’t hear Israeli Special Forces turning their operation into a media circus. They want out of the limelight so they can work effectively. If you’re hungry for attention you should take another job.”

But doesn’t he, don’t they all, yearn to be able to tell their stories?

“Yes, sure, if you’ve had all those intense experiences, emotionally it is hard, keeping all that compressed inside. Sometimes you want to bust out and yell ‘Do you know what I’ve been through to get to here!?’ But that’s the deal we signed up to, and most of us respect it.”

So, if O’Neill came into, say, Danny’s, how would Pat treat him?

“I’d say to him, ‘Congratulations, but you knew better than to do this.’ I guess I’m old-school.”

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Robert O’Neill in Liberia
Robert O’Neill in Liberia

One thing you know: in Coronado, at SEAL hangouts such as Danny’s Palm Bar and McP’s Irish Pub, the talk has been all Robert O’Neill. Matt Bissonnette. Team Six. The Shooter. The Point Man. Zero Dark Thirty. No Easy Day. FOX News.

Robert O’Neill

O’Neill, 38, spilled the beans on FOX about how he had been the shooter who killed Osama Bin Laden in his compound near Abbottabad, Pakistan, on May 2, 2011. Three pulls of his trigger. In doing so, the Chief Petty Officer in the U.S. Navy SEALs brought to a shattering end the life of perhaps the most feared man in recent history.

So, what’s wrong with recognizing and celebrating the shooter, the guy who has given this country a little taste of revenge? Because many are saying O’Neill has been wrong to speak out, to go public. This revelation, they say, should have stayed “in-house.”

No Comment

But is that really how fellow-SEALs and ex-SEALs feel? This is why Saturday night I’m heading for Danny’s Palm Bar.

You know it’s their place as soon as you flap through the cowboy doors. The walls are covered with the photos of SEALs who have died in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan. Young men, in the prime of life, smiling out from the wall above the bar.

It’s crowded. Lots of hard-body males, beautiful women.

“You a SEAL?”

I’m asking this guy on the stool next to me.

Sponsored
Sponsored

“Marines. Force Recon,” he says.

Pretty much same difference, from what I’ve heard. I start telling him I’m a scribbler and interested in what fellow Special Forces think about the fuss over O’Neill.

“Was he wrong to go public?” I ask.

He looks at me a moment. “No comment.”

“I mean, he got the job done, shouldn’t he get some credit?”

The way he says “No comment” the second time tells me this is not going any further.

And that’s the way it is. At McP’s, the same. I ask one guy. He doesn’t even bother to answer. Just moves away.

“He doesn’t talk much,” says the guy next to him as he gets up. “Nor do I.”

But I have better luck the next day.

Letter reminding teammates of the SEAL ethos: “I do not advertise the nature of my work, nor seek recognition for my actions.”

“People are really reticent to talk now,” says Joe (not his real name), who’s a rangy ex-SEAL I meet on Orange Avenue. He started his career in the Vietnam era. “We have all received a letter, past and present SEALs, from the two most senior SEAL commanders, Force Master Chief Michael Magaraci and Rear Admiral Brian Losey, saying keep your mouths shut. And I agree with them. Any advertisement like this individual [has done] is exposing people and causing endangerment to their operations.”

But O’Neill says the cat was already out of the bag. Members of Congress knew he was the guy who shot bin Laden. Some members of the media already knew. He was going to be outed anyway.

“See, that’s it,” says Joe. “How did they find out about it? Other Navy SEALs told them for money? Did one of the wives tell? Of course there were loads of civilians on that operation. Civilians and CIA. Some [choppered in] to collect evidence. Lots of others were at the base [in Afghanistan]. The leak could have come from any one of them. People don’t get it: we operate in secrecy. Our effectiveness depends on it. We don’t respect the publicity-seekers among us.”

This is part of the October 31 letter all SEALs received:

“Teammates…at Naval Special Warfare’s core is the SEAL Ethos…‘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. We do not abide willful or selfish disregard for our core values in return for public notoriety and financial gain, which only diminishes otherwise honorable service, courage and sacrifice…. We will actively seek judicial consequence for members who willfully violate the law, and place our Teammates, our Families, and potential future operations at risk.

“Continue to serve with honor, on and off the battlefield.”

Fifteen seconds

And yet, what a story to keep from the public.

O’Neill grew up in Butte, Montana. Joined at 19. Over 16 years, he deployed on more than a dozen tours of duty in active combat in four war zones, including Iraq and Afghanistan. Was involved in more than 400 combat missions. Carried out more than 30 confirmed “kills.” Decorated 52 times. Was the lead jumper on Maersk Alabama, the ship taken over by Somali pirates (Captain Phillips), and helped save SEAL Marcus Luttrell, Lone Survivor (the title of a book he helped write) of a mission to capture a Taliban leader in Afghanistan. Details of three of O’Neill’s missions have been turned into Hollywood action hits. He’s now on the motivational speaking circuit.

But on the night in Abbottabad, O’Neill, ginger-headed husband and father who looks like Britain’s Prince Harry, jumped off the helicopter in Osama bin Laden’s private garden, expecting to be greeted by everything from booby traps to heavily armed gunmen.

“I didn’t think I would survive,” he said.

And the actual moment of confronting bin Laden? “I rolled past [the lead man] into the room, just inside the doorway,” he told Esquire Magazine. “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.”

Bin Laden looked confused and “taller” than O’Neill expected. O’Neill feared the woman was wearing a suicide vest. He says he saw bin Laden’s AK-47 on a shelf.

“I need to have a head shot so he won’t have a chance to clack himself off,” he said. “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.”

Bin Laden’s wife was screaming and O’Neill realized that a child was present, too — bin Laden’s youngest son. The point man — still nameless — then entered the room and zip-tied the two women he had already grabbed.

The entire episode was over in 15 seconds.

You knew better

“Well, all I can say is O’Neill should change his name and his children’s name,” says Joe the ex-SEAL. “He should move, because he just exposed himself and all the people around him.”

O’Neill’s wife seems to agree. “Personally I feel more threatened by a potential retaliatory attack on our community than I did eight years ago,” she told Esquire in 2013. “We’re actually looking into changing my name, changing the kids’ names, taking my husband’s name off the house, paying off our cars. Essentially deleting him from our lives, but for safety reasons. We still love each other.”

But O’Neill’s father, Tom, is defiant: “People are asking if we are worried that ISIS will come and get us because Rob is going public. I say I’ll paint a big target on my front door and say come and get us. My ex-wife gave birth to a man. We shouldn’t be cowering in fear.”

“I’m not questioning his courage,” says Pat (not his real name), a muscular ex-frogman from Imperial Beach. “But this guy publicizing the whole thing makes the Teams a big joke. We did jobs. We didn’t talk about it. And how can you believe his claims [to have fired the killing shot at bin Laden]? Believe me, in 15-second actions like that it’s like a bar melée. Who threw the punch that decked the guy? You’ll never know. He can’t claim it was his bullet killed bin Laden because none of those bullets was autographed.

“Bottom line: he has tainted our reputation. There was a time when no-one knew we existed. That was how it was supposed to be! Now we’re the rock stars. I can take you to any bookstore and show you six to ten books by authors who’ve ‘been there.’ Nobody else does it. You don’t hear Army Rangers coming out with tell-all books. You don’t hear the Marine Force Recon guys. You don’t get CIA operatives. You certainly don’t hear Israeli Special Forces turning their operation into a media circus. They want out of the limelight so they can work effectively. If you’re hungry for attention you should take another job.”

But doesn’t he, don’t they all, yearn to be able to tell their stories?

“Yes, sure, if you’ve had all those intense experiences, emotionally it is hard, keeping all that compressed inside. Sometimes you want to bust out and yell ‘Do you know what I’ve been through to get to here!?’ But that’s the deal we signed up to, and most of us respect it.”

So, if O’Neill came into, say, Danny’s, how would Pat treat him?

“I’d say to him, ‘Congratulations, but you knew better than to do this.’ I guess I’m old-school.”

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"I didn't do it, nobody saw me, and you can't prove anything". Words to live by from Bart Simpson.

Nov. 26, 2014

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