The former U.S. Navy SEAL who said he shot and killed Osama bin Laden criticized an article that refutes many key portions of the mission by a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter describing the article as "ludicrous" and "full of lies."
Robert O'Neill, the ex-commando who claimed credit for firing the deadly shots that killed the al-Qaeda leader during a covert U.S. raid into Pakistan in 2011, was scathing in his response to the new London Review of Books article by investigative reporter Seymour Hersh.
"When I was first sent this article, I thought it was a joke," O'Neill said during a television interview Monday on Fox News, where he is a paid contributor. "This thing is so ludicrous; it's almost an insult to the word ludicrous."
O'Neill defended his first-person account of the operation as detailed in the TV special, "The Man Who Killed Osama bin Laden," which aired on the cable news network last fall. "That's what went down," he said.
Later, O'Neill said, "The story that I read ... from Hersh is full of lies; the story that our president put out is the truth," he said. "Everything that we said we did, we did." He added, "This story, it took me a long time to read it because I had to put it down. I couldn't read the nonsense."
Hersh, 78, a regular contributor to The New Yorker magazine and the recipient of numerous journalism awards, including the 1970 Pulitzer Prize for international reporting, accused the White House of not being truthful about the May 2, 2011, raid onto bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, less than a mile from the country's prestigious military academy.
In the 10,000-word article, Hersh reported that an official with Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency, known as ISI, in 2010 tipped off the CIA to bin Laden's location for a $25 million reward, and that top Pakistani military leaders were informed of the clandestine American mission to capture or kill him within the country.
O'Neill, a highly decorated combat veteran who served with United States Naval Special Warfare Development Group known as SEAL Team 6, agreed that senior Pakistani officials likely knew of bin Laden's whereabouts -- a detail that was also reported Monday by NBC News. But he took issue with Hersh's account of the raid and vehemently rejected the idea that ISI agents participated in the mission.
Host Shepard Smith asked, "Were there any agents with you?"
O'Neill replied, "No, absolutely not. We didn't tell anyone we were doing that. We couldn't. It's a funny place over there, Pakistan ... there are certain parts of the government and military that don't really like us and we thought that if we told them we were coming in, they were going to tip him off -- you know, they probably knew he was there -- they're going to tell him and he's not going to be there when we get there. So we did this completely unilaterally."
Smith said Hersh's reporting suggested "the ISI guards, the guards who were around Osama bin Laden, were gone and you guys just strolled up in there."
O'Neill replied, "Well, I'm sure my friends that got shot at and almost took a few bullets in the face through the doors would disagree with him there and be a little bit insulted that he would suggest that, especially because he's never really risked his life for anything. All he does is have bad sources and then prints garbage."
Hersh also reported that an unnamed retired official said the White House's claim that only one or two bullets hit bin Laden was "bulls---" and that the terrorist mastermind was "obliterated" by gunfire. The individual is quoted as saying, "We kicked his ass and took his gas."
Regarding this particular quote, O'Neill said, "He said some stupid line about we kicked his blank and then we took his gas. Who talks like that? Professional operators don't talk like that." Foreign officials play a limited, if any, role in U.S. special operations missions, O'Neill said. "If we had any help from most other countries, we put them in the back. And we just bring them along to say they're along. We do the work. There was no ISI in there."
O'Neill also again described his role in the moments leading up to bin Laden's death.
"There were three men," he said. "We killed two of them in the guest house. We killed one on the first floor and then we killed Khaled bin Laden, the son, on the stairs and then we went up into the room. I saw Osama bin Laden standing on two feet -- there were no ISI up there -- I shot him in the head twice and then I shot him again in the face when he was on the ground."
O'Neill said he wished Hersh contacted him before writing his story.
"I think his story would change a little bit because talking like that in person can be different," he said. "It's one of those things. I watched the whole thing happen. I was there. I know it. I saw it happen."
-- Brendan McGarry can be reached at email@example.com