'No Easy Day' Author, Ex-Navy SEAL: 'Why We Shot Osama Bin Laden on Sight'
For the former Navy SEAL who wrote "No Easy Day" -- a firsthand account of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden -- since news broke of the book's publication, things have been anything but easy. The former SEAL, writing under the pseudonym Mark Owen, and the Department of Defense continue to argue over whether the al Queda leader "resisted" before he was shot.
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In a recent interview, Owen said that in the heat of battle, the SEALS on the ground weren't going to take any chances with their target.
Writing of the May 2011 raid, the Navy SEAL Team Six member who was right behind the "point man" who first shot Osama bin Laden said that before they took off for bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, the commandos were given instructions that it was not a "kill-only" mission.
"A lawyer from either the Department of Defense or the White House made it clear that this wasn't an assassination," Owen writes in his book, "No Easy Day." "'If he is naked with his hands up, you're not going to engage him,' he told us. 'I am not going to tell you how to do your job. What we're saying is if he does not pose a threat, you will detain him.'"
Later in the book, though, Owen points out that bin Laden was shot the second he poked his head out of a door frame, apparently before he had a chance to resist or present a visible threat. At the time, Owen said he didn't know who his teammate's bullets had hit, if anyone.
"We were less than five steps from getting to the top [of the stairs] when I heard suppressed shots," writes Owen. "BOP. BOP. The point man had seen a man peeking out of the door on the right side of the hallway about ten feet in front of him. I couldn't tell from my position if the rounds hit the target or not. The man disappeared into the dark room."
Owen's book contends that it wasn't until other members of the team entered the room and saw a man twitching on the ground that they realized he had been hit in the head. Then, after shooting the man in the chest a few more times until he stopped moving, they realized it was bin Laden.
The most wanted man in America was unarmed, and though there was a rifle and a handgun in a room nearby, neither had a bullet loaded in the chamber.
"He hadn't even prepared a defense. He had no intention of fighting," Owen writes.
In a recent interview with CBS News' "60 Minutes," Owen explained why the shot was taken apparently before the man presented a direct, visible threat. He said the team had already been in a short firefight in another part of the compound, an AK-47 assault rifle had been found right next to one of bin Laden's sons who had just been killed and, due to a delay in getting the team inside the compound, bin Laden had already had plenty of time to arm himself or strap on a suicide vest.
"All those boxes had been checked [so] that if a guy sticks his head around the corner, he could very easily have a gun," Owen said. "You don't wait [for him to] get that AK or get that grenade thrown down the hall or that suicide vest. So in that split second, that's when [the point man] engaged."
As for why Owen and another SEAL opened fire on bin Laden as he lay on the ground, Owen said they could not see bin Laden's hands and were concerned he could still be hiding a grenade.
Owen's book has ignited controversy for the discrepancies between his story and the "official" version told by the White House - they say bin Laden "resisted" -- as well as his decision to write and publish the book without first allowing government officials to scour it for classified information.
Owen and his publisher, Dutton, have steadfastly maintained the book was checked by a former special operations attorney and discloses no sensitive information, but last week the Pentagon said it disagreed and was considering legal action against Owen.
On Sept. 7, CNN reported Adm. William McRaven, the head of U.S. special operations, had gone back to the other Navy SEALs involved in the operation -- including the "point man" -- to check Owen's story and found that the author was not accurate in his retelling. According to CNN, Pentagon officials said that bin Laden was standing in his room and, as CNN put it, "showed no signs of surrendering" when he was shot.
A Pentagon spokesperson told ABC News the Department of Defense is not confirming or denying Owen's account, saying "his account is his own."
Owen's book, which went on sale last week, was originally intended to hit bookshelves Tuesday on the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks for which bin Laden was responsible. The sale date was moved up after the book's existence leaked, causing a tidal wave of demand for the first-ever inside look at the historic raid. The flood of attention garnered Owen's book the number one slot on Amazon's bestseller list, knocking "Fifty Shades of Grey" from its top spot, a position it had held all summer.
Owen said he plans to give a majority of the proceeds from the book to charities that support the families of fallen SEALs, but at least one major SEAL charity, The Navy SEAL Foundation, already announced it would not be accepting donations from the book sales, citing Owen's possible legal troubles.
More from the CBS interview
A CIA analyst who lead the search to find Bin Laden flew to Afghanistan with the SEALs. According to Owen, she was instrumental to tracking down the terrorist:
Mark Owen: "I can't give her enough credit. I mean, she, in my opinion, she kind of teed up this whole thing. And is just, you know, wicked smart, kind of feisty."
About half of the SEALs caught a little bit of shut eye on their way to the raid.
Mark Owen: "... I swear, I glance around the helicopter and half the guys are sitting there asleep on the ride in. It was an hour and a half ride. Guys gotta catch a few Zs on the way in."
Scott Pelley: "Wait a minute. Your team is flying in to Osama bin Laden's compound, and they're asleep?"
Mark Owen: "Yeah, no, it's your time to just kind of shut your eyes, relax, you know? Mentally walk through whatever you need to walk through."
A child on the scene ID'ed Bin Laden's body: The SEALs had a body they suspected could be the terrorist leader, but to be sure, they got one of the Arabic-speaking soldiers to talk to the women and children on the scene:
Mark Owen: "So he moved out to where the women and kids were, grabs one of the younger kids. Says, 'Hey, who is that inside?' She says, 'Osama.' 'Osama who?' 'Osama bin Laden.'"
Scott Pelley: "The child?"
Mark Owen: "The child."
Scott Pelley: "Identified him?"
Mark Owen: "Yep. Grabbed one of the females, again asked her, 'Hey, who is that?' She said, 'Osama bin Laden.'
Owen took the pictures of Bin Laden's body. But it took a little clean up effort first:
Mark Owen: "I figured these were the-- probably some of the most important photos I'd ever take in my life. So you know, make sure I do it right, get good angles, and all this other stuff. But, you know, you gotta clean off the face, so you-- there's-- identifiable as possible. So one of my buddies had a Camelbak with some water in it. Got some, you know, spread some water on him, took a sheet off the bed, kind of wiped the blood off and then took photos."
Owen celebrated the successful raid like any good American would: Taco Bell.
"They told us we had a couple days off. And I grabbed my keys, went and got in my truck and, you know, I put it in the book. But, you know, I hit Taco Bell on the way home, hit the drive-thru, a couple tacos. And, you know, ate it in my car right there and then drove home."
Scott Pelley: "You were part of the team that killed Osama bin Laden and the first thing you do when you get back to the United States is go to Taco Bell?"
Mark Owen: "Two tacos and a bean burrito. It's routine."