Battle lines drawn over book on bin Laden killing
TAMPA — Osama Bin Laden's courier and his brother had already been killed when the al-Qaida leader's son Khalid came tumbling down the stairs of the Abbottabad compound, shot in the head and killed by a Navy SEAL.
"Mark Owen," a SEAL Team 6 team leader, stood on the stairs behind the point man.
"I gave him a squeeze to let him know we were ready," writes Owen. The name is a pseudonym the author took in his book "No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission That Killed Osama Bin Laden." The book is scheduled for release Tuesday.
"Take it," wrote Owen.
Slowly, Owen and the other SEALs followed the point man up the stairs.
"We were less than five steps from getting to the top when I heard suppressed shots.
The point man, who is never named in the book, fired at a man seen peeking out of a door about 10 feet away. Owen writes that he could not tell if the man, who ducked into a room at the top of the stairs, had been hit. But when entering the room, Owen said he saw the man splayed out on the floor.
"The point man's shots had entered the right side of his head. Blood and brains spilled out of the side of his skull. 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," Owen wrote.
"No Easy Day" has been a source of controversy since its existence was first revealed by the New York Times. Late last week, the Department of Defense sent a message to Owen, saying he was in breach of two non-disclosure agreements he signed with the Navy and they were considering taking legal action against him.
On Friday, lawyers for Dutton, a member of the Penguin Group, fired back, saying " 'Owen' is proud of his service and respectful of his obligations. But he has earned the right to tell his story; his abiding interest is to ensure that he is permitted to tell it while recognizing the letter and spirit of the law and his contractual undertakings."
Though larger media organizations than mine have published Owen's real name, I'm sticking with the pseudonym.
Interest in the book is high, so much so that it passed the erotic trilogy "Fifty Shades of Gray" for the top spot on Amazon's sales list, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
For the military, the question is whether Owen divulged any secrets by publishing the book without first vetting it. In his "author's notes" intro, Owen writes that "I hired a former Special Operations attorney to review the manuscript to ensure it was free from mention of forbidden topics and that it cannot be used by sophisticated enemies as a source of sensitive information to compromise or harm the United States."
Several members of the special operations community — including two former SEALs, one of whom was with SEAL Team 6 — have expressed to me their dismay that Owen penned a bin Laden raid book.
But the former SEALs — Ryan Zinke and Mark Taylor — both belong to organizations critical of the White House and say the book was written in an "atmosphere of leaks" fostered by the Obama administration.
In his book, Owen says pretty much the same thing, taking aim at both President Barack Obama and Adm. William McRaven, head of the Tampa-based Special Operations Command and the man who was a primary engineer of the raid when he headed the Joint Special Operations Command.
In the last pages of the book, explaining that he wrote it because of "how the mission to kill Bin Laden had been reported is wrong," Owen writes that "everyone from President Obama to Admiral McRaven has given interviews about the operation. If my commander in chief is willing to talk, then I feel comfortable doing the same."
"No Easy Day" is an easy read. Co-written by Kevin Maurer, an award-winning reporter widely respected in the special ops community, the book does a masterful job of laying out what it is like to be a SEAL and what it was like to participate in the mission that McRaven famously said from "a military viewpoint, it was a standard raid and not really very sexy."
The book, as AP reporter Kim Dozier pointed out already, does contradict official versions of the incident that had bin Laden going for a weapon before being shot.
It also contains some moments that may cause some consternation in the Muslim world. Not only did Owen write about a SEAL having to sit on bin Laden's body in the cramped helicopter during the exit from the compound, but Owen also describes blowing up the body of an insurgent killed during a failed attempt to rescue Pfc. Bowe Bergdahl, who was captured by the Taliban more than three years ago.
Does Owen divulge any secrets?
After reading the book, I really can't tell. But you can be sure that if the Pentagon thinks so, the action they take against Owen and his publisher will be severe.
One option is to indict the publisher, the author and the co-author, claiming they are in possession of national defense information or classified information, according to Mark Zaid, a national security attorney who specializes in representing members of the intelligence and military communities and routinely handles prepublication review cases.