There are a lot of puzzled expressions on people’s faces when it comes to the subject of the late Osama bin Laden and why the White House has not authorized the release of any pictures of his body. Photographs and video were released of Saddam Hussein’s hanging, as well as post-mortem pictures of his criminal sons, Uday and Qusay, after Delta Force took them out. Why not release a few pictures of Public Enemy #1 to prove that he is dead and show the world what happens when you take on the U.S. of A?
Matt Bissonnette, one of the SEAL Team 6 operators on the bin Laden raid, partially outs the reason in his book “No Easy Day.” The book reads, “In his death throes, he was still twitching and convulsing. Another assaulter and I trained our lasers on his chest and fired several rounds. The bullets tore into him, slamming his body into the floor until he was motionless.”
But this is perhaps the most measured and polite description that one could give of how operator after operator took turns dumping magazines’ worth of ammunition into bin Laden’s body, two confidential sources within the community have told us. When all was said and done, Osama bin Laden had more than a hundred bullets in him, by the most conservative estimate.
Was this a one-time incident or part of a developing trend of lawless behavior? Consider these two other incidents:
•In 2013, The Associated Press reported that SEALs attached to SEAL Team 6 were investigated by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service after $30,000 in cash strangely vanished from Capt. Richard Phillips’ lifeboat. Phillips had been taken hostage from the Maersk Alabama ship. SEAL snipers shot and killed his pirate captors using night-vision goggles, laser target designators and multiple rounds. They took control of the lifeboat — and presumably the money.
But the money was never recovered — and its disappearance remains a mystery to this day. Phillips described the incident in his book this way: “Two stacks of hundreds, one of fifties, then twenties, fives and tens … I never saw the money again. Later, when they gave me a sack to lean against, I felt the stacks of money inside, but I never spotted the cash out in the open again. “The case was eventually closed because there was no substantial evidence linking the SEALs to any wrongdoing.
In Eric Blehm’s book “Fearless,” he openly writes about illicit drug use by an active-duty SEAL stationed on the East Coast who ultimately went on to serve with SEAL Team 6. How this same person managed to pass a top-secret background clearance despite having 11 prior felony convictions is perturbing and revealing at the same time.
You may not care if bin Laden got some extra holes punched in him — few of us do — but what should concern you is a trend within certain special-operations units to engage in this type of self-indulgent and ultimately criminal behavior. Gone unchecked, these actions worsen over time and in the end risk creating a unit subculture that is hidden from senior commanders, that is more “Sons of Anarchy” than “American Hero.”
So is putting a few extra rounds into the enemy illegal?
Under the Laws of Land Warfare, a soldier is fully authorized to put a few insurance rounds into his target after he goes down. Provided the enemy is not surrendering, it is morally, legally and ethically appropriate to shoot the body a few times to ensure that he is really dead and no longer a threat. However, what happened on the bin Laden raid is beyond the permissible. The level of excess shown was not about making sure that bin Laden was no longer a threat. The excess was pure self-indulgence.
And if there’s any truth to the rumors floating around the special-operations community related to illegal activities at home and abroad, it will be a sad day of reckoning for America in many regards. When the truth comes to light, honor will have been betrayed by actions that are not aligned with the very principles these warriors swore an oath to uphold, the same ones that distinguish good guys from the bad.
Of course, these attitudes and behaviors do not come out of nowhere. Endless back-to-back combat deployments, post-traumatic stress disorder, broken families and the ugliness of more than a decade of war all play into it. War is ugly, ugliest of all for the warriors required to do the actual wet work, and Americans would do well to keep this in mind before passing judgment.
Now you know the likely reason why the Obama administration has not released pictures of Osama bin Laden’s corpse. To do so would show the world a body filled with a ridiculous number of gunshot wounds. The picture itself would likely cause an international scandal, and investigations would be conducted that could uncover other operations and activities many would do anything to keep buried.
*This story was expanded to reflect additions that ran in the San Diego Union Tribune Sunday March 23rd, 2014.