Robert O’Neill claims to be the one responsible for killing Osama Bin Laden. O’Neill’s name has been circulating throughout the international media in recent weeks, culminating with a profile by the Washington Post in which the former SEAL Team Six member admitted to delivering the fatal shot in Bin Laden’s compound. “In that second I shot him, two times in the forehead. Bap! Bap! The second time, as he is going down. He crumbled to the floor in front of his bed and I hit him again,” O’Neill said. “I watched him take his last breaths.”
Mark Bissonnette tells a different account of what happened at Bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan three years ago. In his book "No Easy Day," written under the pseudonym ‘Mark Owen,’ Bissonnette describes killing Bin Laden after another SEAL fires the initial shots. He was recently fined $4.5 million for releasing the book without government clearance. In response to O’Neill’s claims of being “the shooter” and how those claims contrast with the events as depicted in "No Easy Day," Bissonnette had a simple explanation: “Two different people telling two different stories for two different reasons. Whatever [O’Neill] says, I don’t want to touch that.”
The fact that there are two different stories, however, is potentially problematic. This leaves the public with conflicting ideas as to what occurred on that momentous day in American military history. It leaves an unclear picture of a raid that has been shrouded in mystery since it occurred, largely due to a lack of photographs or publicly-released evidence from the compound.
The more recent narratives are far different from the one told by O’Neill in his Esquire story, in which he was anonymously referred to only as “the Shooter.” In that article, O’Neill described responding to an Obama administration inquiry as to who shot Bin Laden by saying “We all did.” That was the smart answer, the one that acknowledged the efforts of SEAL Team Six as a whole. Bin Laden was killed as a result of a combination of American military efforts, not the individual who happened to deliver the fatal shot.
O’Neill has, however, since distanced himself from the camaraderie described in that initial response. He delivers motivational speeches throughout the country, under the vague assumption that he was the one who killed Bin Laden. Aside from Bissonnette, he’s the lone face of the team responsible for carrying out the mission. The rest of those who were present on that day, who contributed to the ultimate goal of defeating Bin Laden, remain in the dark.
It must be difficult to live with the fact that you killed the world’s largest terrorist threat, especially if you’re not expected to receive the praise or recognition that you believe you deserve. The American public can’t criticize O’Neill or Bissonnette for wanting to speak out about what occurred at the compound, for clarifying their role in history. The conflicting accounts of the killing, however, have shifted focus away from what’s truly important about it all: some slight form of justice for 9/11 was achieved and the world’s most wanted terrorist was killed. O'Neill and Bissonnette should be honored just as much as the other members of that SEAL Team Six. It doesn't matter who killed Bin Laden, just that the mission's goal was accomplished.