Bin Laden put up no defense, raid book says
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Osama bin Laden hid in his bedroom for at least 15 minutes as Navy SEALs battled their way through his Pakistani compound, making no attempt to arm himself before a U.S. commando shot him as he peeked from his doorway, according to the first published account by a participant in the now-famous raid on May 2, 2011.
The account, in a book by one of the SEAL team leaders, sheds new light on the al-Qaida chief's final moments. In the account, bin Laden appears neither to surrender nor to directly challenge the special forces troops who killed his son and two associates as they worked their way to his third-floor apartment.
A White House raid narrative had acknowledged that bin Laden was unarmed when he was killed but suggested that he posed a threat to the U.S. commandos.
The depiction of an apparently passive bin Laden is among dozens of revelations in the book, "No Easy Day," which chronicles the raid in minute and often-harrowing detail, from the nearly disastrous helicopter crash in the opening seconds to the shots fired into bin Laden's twitching body as he lay apparently dead from a gunshot wound to the temple.
The book also has provided fresh ammunition for partisans in the long-simmering controversy over the Obama administration's handling of the raid's aftermath.
Author Matt Bissonnette's account, written without Pentagon or White House approval, is being published at a time when the administration is cracking down on unauthorized leaks while also fending off accusations that it sought to exploit the raid's success by offering unusual access to filmmakers.
Republicans have sought to diminish President Barack Obama's most significant counterterrorism achievement by accusing the White House of selectively leaking details of the raid to ensure a favorable portrayal of the president. Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has decried such leaks as "contemptible," and called for an independent investigation. The White House has denied authorizing the release of classified information for political gain.
Mr. Bissonnette, who retired last year, writes that the commandos knew instinctively that their successful mission would be exploited for political purposes. "We just got this guy re-elected," he quotes one of his SEAL comrades as saying of Mr. Obama in the hours after the team returned to their Afghanistan base.
At the same time, Mr. Bissonnette credits Mr. Obama for having the courage to order the raid, and he describes being impressed by the president's understated speech announcing the al-Qaida leader's death to the world.
"None of us were huge fans of Obama," Mr. Bissonnette writes in the book. "We respected him as the commander-in-chief of the military and for giving us the green light on the mission."
In a "CBS Evening News" clip from a segment of "60 Minutes" scheduled to air Sunday, Mr. Bissonnette said the book was not intended to be political. "You know, if these crazies on either side of the aisle want to make it political, shame on them," he said. "This book is about September 11th, and it needs to rest on September 11th, not be brought into the political arena."
The book, which Mr. Bissonnette wrote under the pseudonym Mark Owen, is scheduled for publication next week.
The book presents what is by far the most intimate account of the high-stakes assault on bin Laden's hideout, from the weeks of training by the SEALs at a secret North Carolina base to the team's race to return to Afghanistan ahead of Pakistani military jets scrambled to intercept the intruders.
Mr. Bissonnette asserts in an author's note that he revealed no classified information in the book. He says he took "great pains to protect the tactics, techniques and procedures" of U.S. special forces teams and conceal identities of active-duty comrades.
Still, his decision to write an unauthorized account has drawn criticism from Pentagon officials, who decried the break with a time-honored tradition of secrecy by the elite SEAL unit that carried out the raid. Officials were described as "livid" over the book when they learned of it, according to a military contractor who has worked for U.S. Special Operations Command and who spoke on condition of anonymity.
But as news media published the first excerpts from the book Wednesday, such criticisms were conspicuously absent. Defense officials, who received a manuscript copy Saturday, declined to take issue with Mr. Bissonnette's account and gave no signals that they intend to take punitive action against him.
Unlike the CIA's strict censorship requirements for its officers, the Navy has no rule requiring former service members to submit a book to authorities for pre-publication review.
Administration officials privately expressed surprise over details that they said contradicted official after-action reports about the raid. But a White House National Security Council spokesman declined to take issue with the author or his narrative.
In the book, Mr. Bissonnette says he was motivated to write in part to clear up inaccuracies in official and published raid accounts. His version is largely consistent with White House officials' amended accounts offered in days after bin Laden's death.
The author describes weeks of training, using elaborately produced, full-scale models of bin Laden's compound. He describes seeing CIA surveillance video of a figure believed to be bin Laden -- a man dubbed "the Pacer" because of his habitual strolls inside the compound's high walls.
The question of whether bin Laden would be killed or captured came up in briefings, Mr. Bissonnette writes. At one point, a government lawyer -- perhaps a White House or Defense Department official -- makes clear that "this wasn't an assassination," the author says.
"If he is naked with his hands up, you're not going to engage him," Mr. Bissonnette quotes the lawyer saying. "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."
But according to the book, the SEALs decided to take no chances as they confronted the dark-bearded man who peered at them from his doorway on the villa's third floor. By then, the raid was under way 15 minutes, and the house occupants had long been alerted to the team's presence after multiple shootouts and explosions from door-breaching charges on lower floors.
Crouching a few feet behind the assault team's point man, Mr. Bissonnette knew that his team could be walking into an ambush because bin Laden "had plenty of time to strap on a suicide vest or simply get his gun."
The lead SEAL fired at the man, who disappeared into the dark room behind him. Cautiously entering the room with guns drawn, the SEALs saw bin Laden lying at the foot of a bed with two women standing over him. He had been shot in the head and blood was pooling beneath him.
Mr. Bissonnette and other SEALs fired more rounds into bin Laden's chest to make certain he was dead. Only later, during a room search, did he find a pair of guns on a shelf near the door where bin Laden had been standing. Both were empty, Mr. Bissonnette wrote.
"He hadn't even prepared a defense," the retired SEAL recalled. "He had no intention of fighting."
First Published August 30, 2012 12:40 am