The Navy SEAL who shot and killed Osama bin Laden has given a tell-all interview that reveals new details of the operation and paints a depressing picture of the SEAL’s life in retirement.
The interview by the Center for Investigative Reporting’s Phil Bronstein, which will appear in Esquire, uncovers a wealth of information about the man referred to only as “the Shooter.”
Here’s what you need to know.
1. He’s Broke
One of the most shocking truths uncovered is that the Shooter, a member of the revered SEAL Team 6 (ST6) is struggling to make ends meet now that he’s home. According to the interview, the government has neglected to fairly compensate the last person to see bin Laden alive. It seems that the $25 million reward promised to bin Laden’s captor will remain unrewarded.
2. He’s Conflicted over Bin Laden’s Gruesome Killing
Meanwhile, the anonymous gunman feels enormously conflicted over his role in taking down bin Laden. He expressed his internal torment while recounting the actual act of shooting bin Laden to Bronstein:
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. 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?
He went on to say:
His forehead was gruesome. It was split open in the shape of a V. I could see his brains spilling out over his face. The American public doesn’t want to know what that looks like.
3. He Only Joined the Navy Because a Girl Broke His Heart
In the interview, the Shooter said that he’d never intended to join the Navy in the first place — he found himself inside a recruiter’s office in the wake of a devastating breakup. “That’s the reason Al Qaeda has been decimated, because she broke my fucking heart,” he quipped during the interview.
Bronstein said that over the course of his time interviewing the Shooter they became quite close, and he learned a great deal about his personal life as well as his 16 years in the service.
4. He’s a Big Dude
Although the Shooter is understandably anonymous at this point, Bronstein was able to give a detailed description of his appearance and demeanor:
The Shooter is thick, like a power lifter, with an audacious set of tattoos. He can be curt and dismissive as his default, but also wickedly funny. It’s instantly easy to see why he’s considered both a rebellious, pushy pain in the ass by his command and even some of his colleagues, but also a natural leader. An outgoing, charismatic, and determined alpha male in the ultimate alpha crowd.
5. He Was Lied to About the Mission
The Shooter said his unit was “lied to” about their mission. Until very shortly before they actually executed the mission, they had thought that they were potentially headed to Libya. It was a tumultuous time for much of the world, with events like the Arab Spring at their peak, so their speculations weren’t all that far off.
The Shooter said that he and his comrades weren’t nervous, since missions like this had become somewhat routine for them, but he realized the severity of the situation early on:
It’s about leaving blood on the ground. We were the Red Team and we were going to leave some blood.
6. He Was Sure He Was Going to Die
The Shooter gave an extraordinarily comprehensive account of the days leading up to the mission, as well as of the mission itself. Before the mission itself started, the Shooter recognized the overwhelming likelihood that they would either die or be captured:
We all wrote letters. I had my shitty little room and I’m sitting on my Pelican case with all my gear, a manila envelope on my bed, and I’m writing letters to my kids. They were to be delivered in case of my death, something for them to read when they’re thirty-five. I have no idea what I said except I’m explaining everything, that it was a noble mission and I hope we got him. I’m saying I wish I could be there for them.
The intelligence that the ST6s had been given was apparently spot-on, because the Shooter recalled realizing that the blueprints he’d been given matched exactly to the compound once he’d entered it. The Shooter said that his fellow SEALs were concerned that they’d get in serious trouble for accidentally shooting women inside the compound:
One of our guys involved told me, “Jesus, these women are jumping in front of these guys. They’re trying to martyr themselves. Another sign that this is a serious place. Even if bin Laden isn’t here, someone important is.”
7. It Wasn’t His Most Perilous Assignment
The Shooter told Bronstein that the bin Laden mission wasn’t even the most dangerous one he’d been involved in–one in particular involved a close-proximity child suicide bomber.
The bin Laden mission gave opportunities for selfless heroism, as the Shooter described:
On the third floor, he tackled the two women in the hallway right outside the first door on the right, moving them past it just enough. He thought he was going to absorb the blast of suicide vests; he was going to kill himself so I could get the shot. It was the most heroic thing I’ve ever seen.”
8. He Pointed Out the Inaccuracies of Zero Dark 30
Bronstein watched Zero Dark Thirty, the film that details the story of the shooting, with the Shooter himself. He said that the scene in the film depicting the mission took much longer than in reality, and that the tattoos of the men in the movie are nothing compared with the real thing. Most of the Shooter’s criticisms of the film were of the amount of talking that took place, since silence is the accepted custom during all SEAL missions.
9. SEALs Still Like to Have Fun
The Shooter expressed that although the daily life of a SEAL is stressful and demanding, there’s a great deal of humor in their lives. He told Bronstein that they performed pranks on each other regularly, from placing goats in one another’s living quarters to borrowing uniforms only to dye them pink.
10. The Mission Ruined His Marriage
To add even more to the perceived despair of a retired SEAL, the Shooter says that his service destroyed his marriage. The Shooter’s wife told Bronson that, “[s]he holds his priorities partially responsible: SEAL first, father second, husband third.”
The Shooter and his wife, who are officially separated but share a roof for the sake of finances and their children, say they still love one another. Even so, the Shooter’s wife says they’re essentially trying to “delete” him from her and their children’s lives for safety reasons.
A year to the day after the Shooter killed bin Laden, he was watching CNN’s coverage of the anniversary of the event:
They were saying, ‘So now we’re taking viewer e-mails. Do you remember where you were when you found out Osama bin Laden was dead?’ And I was thinking: Of course I remember. I was in his bedroom looking down at his body.”