Despite renewed controversy over who actually killed Osama bin Laden, the one member of SEAL Team Six who could settle the whole thing -- and the man who may have actually pulled the trigger that fateful night -- may never speak out, according to new reports and a former member of the elite unit.
"You're never going to hear from him," the ex-SEAL Team Six member told ABC News. "I've spoken to him. He's just the type that doesn't care about it... [He] doesn't think he did anything special. He simply pulled the trigger when he was supposed to. That's why he'll never go public."
The al Qaeda leader was killed almost two years ago, but questions over who exactly took him down reignited this week after a pair of reports -- first out of the special operations website SOFREP.com and then from CNN national security analyst Peter Bergen -- cited anonymous SEAL Team Six members who claimed that the account of "the Shooter" featured in a recent Esquire magazine article was, to quote SOFREP's source, "complete bulls**t."
Both CNN's and SOFREP's reports cite a single anonymous SEAL Team Six member each, and both point out apparent inconsistencies in the Esquire account.
In the Esquire article, an ex-SEAL, who the magazine only calls "the Shooter," claims he and another SEAL, the "point man," were alone on the stairs heading up to the third floor of bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Before they reached the third floor, the point man saw a man poke his head out of the bedroom doorway on the third floor so the point man unleashed a few shots in his direction. The shots missed, however, and when the pair reached the third floor, the point man peeled off to tackle two women who were in the hallway -- a move meant to protect his teammates from possible suicide bombs. The Shooter, then, was the first to enter the bedroom where he came face-to-face with bin Laden, standing just inches away, and was the one who shot him three times in the head before he could get to a nearby AK-47.
That account is markedly different from the first SEAL account of the raid, as written by the pseudonymous Mark Owen in the book "No Easy Day," which came out last fall.
In Owen's account, Owen, the point man and a third SEAL -- since identified as Esquire's "the Shooter" -- all went up to the third floor together after the point man's shots from the stairway. But when they entered bin Laden's room together, they found the al Qaeda leader already down and bleeding from the head. The point man's earlier shots had apparently connected.
The two women were inside the bedroom when the point man, having deemed the downed bin Laden was not a threat, tackled them into the corner. Owen and the Shooter then fired a few more bullets into bin Laden's dying body. Only later did the SEALs realize who they had killed, Owen said.
Clouding the events further is another account written by "Black Hawk Down" author Mark Bowden called "The Finish" based on interviews with higher-level military officials up the chain of command all the way to President Obama. In that account, three SEALs ascended the steps together but bin Laden was alive and standing in the bedroom when the point man entered. The point man tackled the two women in the room and the second SEAL through the door, who Bowden did not identify, was the one that shot bin Laden first in the chest and then in the head.
Bowden's book, which was still in press when "No Easy Day" hit bookshelves, later carried an insert deferring to Owen's version of events.
Esquire Author: Claims 'Extraordinarily Speculative'
The unidentified SEALs who spoke recently to CNN and SOFREP said certain parts of Esquire's Shooter account don't add up, such as the idea the Shooter knew bin Laden was a threat because he had a weapon nearby. They said that none of the SEALs knew that an AK-47 was nearby until minutes after bin Laden was killed when they found it during a search of the compound. It was stashed above the bedroom doorway, where the Shooter would not have seen it as he entered, they said.
In addition, the Shooter's detractors claimed the men on the mission had been told to try not shoot bin Laden in the head for identification purposes, meaning the Shooter either ignored that directive when he was just feet from his target, or, in their opinion, it was more likely the point man's shots were the ones that killed bin Laden well before the SEALs knew who it was they had hit.
Phil Bronstein, the executive chairman of the Center for Investigative Reporting and author of the Esquire article, told ABC News Wednesday he "absolutely" stands by his original story and said arguments like those made by the other SEALs are "extraordinarily speculative... about what they would've done, what they shouldn't have done."
Bronstein also referred ABC News to Wednesday's statement from Esquire's Editor in Chief, David Granger, which defended the Esquire story, saying that facts of the original article had been vetted by SEAL Team Six members.
"Multiple members of SEAL Team Six confirmed the Shooter was one of those two [first on the top floor] and reported to us that it was known within the unit that the Shooter had fired the fatal shots," Granger wrote. "Other individuals briefed on the mission confirmed this to us."
A spokesperson for the U.S. Special Operations Command, which oversees the Joint Special Operations Command that launched the raid, told ABC News the command wouldn't be the one to settle the controversy anytime soon. He declined to comment on operations and said the official version of events probably wouldn't be declassified for more than two decades.
That leaves the point man, the only SEAL in the room when bin Laden breathed his last who hasn't spoken publicly, to throw his hat in the ring. And according to the CNN and SOFREP reports and the ex-SEAL with whom ABC News spoke, he's not the type to trade the special warfare shadows for the media spotlight. Not "in a million years," the CNN report said.
One thing every account does agree on is that the point man was one of the heroes of that night for risking his life to tackle the two women closest to bin Laden.
"If either woman had on a suicide vest, he probably saved our lives, but it would've cost him his," Owen wrote in "No Easy Day." "It was a selfless decision made in a split second."
"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," the Shooter said in Esquire.
- Sports & Recreation
- Politics & Government
- SEAL Team Six
- bin Laden