A Navy SEAL claiming to be Osama bin Laden's killer told a reporter he feels abandoned by the military.
The SEAL, simply identified as “The Shooter” in an Esquire magazine story out Monday, describes the killing of bin Laden by SEAL Team 6 in detail and also talks about his struggles to find work and protect his family since retiring in September, four years short of pension eligibility.
“It took a long time for him to get to a place of trusting me, of telling his story over time and of ultimately understanding that it was a bigger story,’’ said Phil Bronstein, author of the Esquire article. “It was more about the kind of life these guys face after service than it was even about the raid.’’
Titled “The Man Who Killed Osama bin Laden…Is Screwed,” the story describes the SEAL’s ambivalence after the pulse-pounding moment in May 2011 when he broke into a dark room in bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, and put two bullets in his forehead.
Bronstein, the executive chairman of the Center for Investigative Reporting, confirmed the SEAL's role in the raid by other members of the mission and by a man identified as “Mentor’’ in the story who trained the shooter.
“The second time as he's going down, he crumpled onto the floor in front of his bed and I hit him again…same place,’’ the shooter told Bronstein. “I watched him take his last breath, just a reflex breath. And I remember as I watched him breathe out the last part of air, I thought: 'Is this the best thing I've ever done or the worst thing I've ever done?'”
“Think about that,’’ Bronstein told Matt Lauer on TODAY Monday. “You’ve just killed the world’s most wanted terrorist and you have to consider, is this bad or good? The good was he felt he was doing this for the people of New York, for the country, for all his fellow SEALs, and the bad thing was, of course, the security issue, among other things.’’
The SEAL, convinced he was embarking on a suicide mission, didn’t expect to make it back.
"I was usually the guy to joke around when we were planning these things, but I was like, ‘Hey guys, we have to take this serious,'' he said in the story. "There's a 90 percent chance this is a one-way mission. We're gonna die, so let's do this right.’’’
Killing bin Laden made the SEAL a high-level target for al Qaeda and other organizations seeking retribution. He told Bronstein the Navy offered him a form of witness protection in which he would have to break ties with his extended family and move to another state.
“It’s like being a Mafia snitch,’’ Bronstein said.
The SEAL currently has no special security, according to Bronstein. He has trained his wife to put their children in a bathtub in the house that has a reinforcing wall in front of it in case of an attack. He has taught her how to fire a shotgun at intruders, by sitting on the bed and bracing her arm against the wall.
By retiring four years before his 20th year of service, the SEAL also immediately lost all health benefits. He told Bronstein that even if he stayed long enough, his pension would amount to $2,100 a month, the same a member of the Navy choir receives.
The Pentagon, Department of Defense and Special Forces have programs to help military members with the transition to civilian life, but Bronstein said they are not widely known.
“He also can’t talk about anything,’’ Bronstein said. “Technically, certainly theoretically, this is all private. What do you put on your resume when your job has been classified for that long?’’
However, the commander of the Naval Special Warfare Command has denied allegations that the SEAL was left in the dark about what benefits were available to him when he left the service. "Months ahead of his separation, he was counseled on status and benefits, and provided with options to continue his career until retirement eligible," Rear Adm. Sean Pybus wrote in a statement. "Claims to the contrary in these matters are false."
“Navy SEALs continue to serve and fight bravely in Afghanistan and around the world, accomplishing critical missions that keep our nation safe,’’ the Navy said in a statement to NBC News. “The major details of the bin Laden mission are well known, many of them matter of public record. We have no information to corroborate these new assertions. We take seriously the safety and security of our people as well as our responsibility to assist sailors making the transition to civilian life. Without more information about this particular case, it would be difficult to determine the degree to which our transition programs succeeded.”