Former Navy SEAL Robert O’Neill on Wednesday said he met Osama bin Laden, alive, for perhaps one second. Then he fired three quick shots at the architect of 9/11, who fell by the side of his bed.
“I very quickly recognized him and then it was just pop, pop, pop,” said Mr. O’Neill in the second part of his taped interview on Fox News.
The SEAL told Fox’s Peter Doocy that he stood over Bin Laden and heard him take his last breath.
Others have told a different version of this final encounter. In the book “No Easy Day," written under a pseudonym by another SEAL from the assault team, Matt Bissonnette, the lead man up the stairs at Bin Laden’s house in Pakistan fires a shot which fells the Al Qaeda leader. Following team members then pour more fire into the body.
“War is foggy," said O’Neill on Fox, and that may explain the different stories.
“I think the author is telling the story as he saw it, and based on the debrief he had,” said O’Neill.
The SEAL said he can’t be 100 percent sure that Bin Laden had not been struck before he fired. But he added that he was sure Bin Laden was upright and standing on his own two feet at the start of their brief encounter.
“I’ll take 10 lie detectors [tests] on that one,” he said.
The first part of the Fox News special based on O’Neill’s testimony was broadcast Tuesday. It took the story of the assault right up to the stairway leading to Bin Laden’s door.
O’Neill gave a vivid account of the raid, from the crash of a US helicopter at its beginning, to the quick assault on the compound, with SEALs peeling off inside the building to clear rooms and floors as they climbed up the stairs.
At one point, he took a small girl by the hand and led her to a woman for safety, O’Neill said. As they reached the second floor, a SEAL whispered in Pashto, and Bin Laden’s son Khalid, confused, leaned over railing to see what was happening. He was shot.
As the SEAL team took off, mission completed, a SEAL from New York City asked O’Neill who had shot their primary target. “I said, ‘I think I did,' ” said O’Neill.
The New York City native then thanked him.
“That was the kind of point where it hit me, ‘Wow, this is a big deal,’ ” said O’Neill.
The decision by O’Neill to go public with his story has roiled the secretive community of US special operations forces. SEALs are expected to remain silent about their missions. They sign nondisclosure agreements. Selflessness is supposed to be part of the special operations ethos.
But Pentagon officials cooperated with the producers of the Hollywood thriller about the Bin Laden raid, “Zero Dark Thirty," and some have written memoirs detailing some aspects of the event.
“I don’t think I’m saying anything that hasn’t been confirmed,” said O’Neill.
Mr. Bissonnette, for his part, says he dislikes being linked with Robert O’Neill, a SEAL who’s broken the code of silence. He tried to keep his identity secret, he said, so as to not distract too much from the team, he pointed out in an interview with the Tampa Tribune’s Howard Altman.
That distinction may not matter much to critics.
Vice Adm. Sean Pybus, a SEAL and deputy commander of US Special Operations Command, talked obliquely about the controversy during a Veterans Day event in Tampa.
“There are some issues with humility today . . . in special operations there are some challenges that we have currently and this is a fine balance between being loud and proud, self versus team, sharing versus security concerns,” Admiral Pybus said, according to a Tampa Tribune reporter.