SEAL Target Geronimo: Fact or Fiction?

The New York Times bestselling book by Chuck Pfarrer, SEAL Target Geronimo: The Inside Story of the Mission to Kill Osama bin Laden, has generated a lot of controversy over the events of the raid.  Much of the criticism appears to constitute a "he said, she said" argument about facts in this nonfiction book, so American Thinker interviewed Pfarrer for his response.

Pfarrer became firmly committed to write the book after The New Yorker published a story, titled "Getting Bin Laden," about the raid.  Pfarrer wanted to set the record straight, since he believes that the article made the SEALs out to be murderers.  He explained, "The article talked about shooting women and children on the way up three flights of stairs, culminating in the murder of Osama bin Laden, who was unarmed and wanted to surrender.  Being a former SEAL, it did not sound like any mission I was involved in, so I started to dig."

A SOCOM spokesman told American Thinker, "U.S. Special Operations Command supports the position of the secretary of Defense and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that 'enough has already been said about what happened on the operation and it is time to stop talking about it.'  Continued discussions about the operation itself, and/or the participants that took part, jeopardize the safety of those involved and their families."

Pfarrer commented that he would not have written the book if nothing had been said, but "[t]he administration started it by giving out all this information which happens to be different [from] what I heard.  I did talk to people connected to the mission but changed names and operational details so national security would not be affected.  This administration compromised the mission for political reasons."  

There are articles that dispute some of the historical facts in the book.  For example, the editors of the blog Small Wars Journal claim, "Pfarrer recounts the 1998 bombing of the U.S. embassy in Mombassa, Kenya, when the attack actually occurred in Nairobi. The date for an alleged AQI nerve gas attack in Iraq is alternatively given as May 2003, May 2007, and then in May 2003 again over the course of one chapter. Pfarrer claims that both Zarqawi and bin Laden's voices were captured by signal intercepts despite both terrorists being notoriously vigilant about not using cell phones or other means of electronic communications."  Pfarrer freely admits that errors were made, which he says will be corrected in the next edition, yet he strongly argues that the existence of historical errors does not mean that he was wrong about substantial portions of the mission.

In differing with the administration's details about the mission, Pfarrer gives some plausible and some not-so-plausible explanations.  What does not seem plausible in the book is the statement that al-Qaeda had chemical weapons.  Citing WikiLeaks document as well as some articles, Pfarrer tries to make the argument that OBL was told by Saddam Hussein's intelligence services where the weapons were buried, whereupon bin Laden had them collected and shipped secretly to him through Pakistan and Iran.

Michael Hayden, the former CIA director, was asked if this could be a remote possibility.  He replied, "Given the way the American intelligence community has been beaten up on that estimate, if we had evidence that Hussein had chemical weapons, don't you think we would tell you now?"

Another interesting point, but one that does not seem to be proven, is Pfarrer's assertion that Ayman Zawahiri set up OBL because Zawahiri wanted to assume the leadership role.  As stated in the book, "Zawahiri tried to get the Russians to kill Bin Laden; they did not. He hoped that Addison's disease would take him, but it did not.  Now Ayman Zawahiri played his final card -- he deliberately used a blown courier to communicate with Osama, and the inevitable happened.  The Americans found him."

When asked to give his opinion on this possibility, Hayden responded that "that is so unbelievable that it proves my point that we should not be rushing to write history.  That seems improbable.  Things need a little time to settle before the historical record is crafted."

What is truly believable is Pfarrer's discussion of what happened during the actual operation.  Pfarrer attests to the fact that he actually spoke to those involved in the operation and is upset that Kim Dozier, in her AP article about the book, and U.S. Special Operations Command spokesman Colonel Tim Nye have attempted to discredit him.  LTC Jonathan Allen, a SOCOM spokesman, told American Thinker, "No one has been granted access to any Special Operations Forces that were involved in the operation that resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden.  You could also review the story AP ran on 15 Nov [the Kim Dozier article], where he [Nye] is quoted."

Pfarrer responded, "The viciousness of the way they are coming at me is hard to understand.  They put my reputation out in the street because of my desire to set the record straight.  I encourage Ms. Dozier to post the sound file of our interview, the unedited version.  I could not source any military people I talked with because they would have been fired or disciplined."  Besides the author's point, Allen's quote refers to access granted but says nothing about those who might speak on background. 

Looking at the administration's dialogue on the raid, they reported initially that OBL "fought back."  This take was corrected by John Brennan, Obama's counterterrorism czar, to say that OBL was killed while going for a weapon, but this new testimony was changed to bin Laden being unarmed.  Then there was the New Yorker article that stated that two shots hit OBL, one in the chest and one in the head, and that "[a] second SEAL stepped into the room and trained the infrared laser of his M4 on bin Laden's chest. The Al Qaeda chief, who was wearing a tan shalwar kameez and a prayer cap on his head, froze; he was unarmed[.]"

When asked why it matters how OBL was killed -- after all, he is dead, and that is what counts -- Pfarrer commented, "Remember Eric Holder authorized prosecution for the CIA debriefers and court-martialed four SEALs for punching a captured terrorist in the nose.  They [SEALs] would not have shot an unarmed person just because the administration says to do it.  This is the kind of administration that would court-martial someone for doing it.  It is very telling in the book when I recounted that when the president asked 'which one of you guys took out Bin Laden, they answered 'we all did, Sir.'"

Pfarrer also was rightly upset about the fact -- and he points this out in the book -- that the intelligence information should not have been made public.  He explained, "The administration had the crown jewels of al-Qaeda intelligence, only to have it squandered and wasted."  Pfarrer made a very good point since even President Obama during the May 8 60 Minutes interview compromised the intelligence when he stated that "they [SEALs] had the presence of mind to still gather up a whole bunch of bin Laden's material, which will be a treasure trove of information that could serve us very well in the weeks and months to come.  But we anticipate that it can give us leads to other terrorists that we've been looking for a long time, other high value targets. But [it] also can give us a better sense of existing plots that might have been there, how they operated and their methods of communicating."  Michael Hayden also "was quite surprised at how much information about the raid and its aftermath was made public."

There is also the disparity involving the helicopter crash.  Pfarrer asserts in the book that the helicopter did not crash initially as the administration reported, but landed on the roof, allowing the SEALs to enter OBL's bedroom by the third-floor terrace.  The helicopter crash-landed about twelve minutes into the raid, in the livestock area next to the main house, because of a failure of two flight control systems.  The whole mission did not take approximately 45 minutes, as publicized by the administration.  Pfarrer's proof is that "having been in combat, 45 minutes is an eternity.  Look at the buildings -- there are not any bullet holes in them.  The entire mission was videotaped from above.  The video overhead images of this raid will show when the helicopter crashed.  All those viewing it know that the helicopter crashed during the middle of the mission.  How come the wall was not damaged if it crashed initially?  I have it on excellent first-person authority that the helicopter landed on the roof successfully."

Because so much of this information is classified, Pfarrer's narrative cannot be fully proven or disproven.  There are those in the military who feel that too much information has already been given out, jeopardizing the SEALs and their families, while others have commented that this book is a fabrication.  In defending himself, Pfarrer noted that "no one had refuted individual points of my story, yet they have called the book a fabrication.  I know everything about this operation, good and bad.  I stand by what I wrote."  He made good points regarding some of his arguments, while there is skepticism about other arguments.  American Thinker feels that the truth lies somewhere in between.

The New York Times bestselling book by Chuck Pfarrer, SEAL Target Geronimo: The Inside Story of the Mission to Kill Osama bin Laden, has generated a lot of controversy over the events of the raid.  Much of the criticism appears to constitute a "he said, she said" argument about facts in this nonfiction book, so American Thinker interviewed Pfarrer for his response.

Pfarrer became firmly committed to write the book after The New Yorker published a story, titled "Getting Bin Laden," about the raid.  Pfarrer wanted to set the record straight, since he believes that the article made the SEALs out to be murderers.  He explained, "The article talked about shooting women and children on the way up three flights of stairs, culminating in the murder of Osama bin Laden, who was unarmed and wanted to surrender.  Being a former SEAL, it did not sound like any mission I was involved in, so I started to dig."

A SOCOM spokesman told American Thinker, "U.S. Special Operations Command supports the position of the secretary of Defense and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that 'enough has already been said about what happened on the operation and it is time to stop talking about it.'  Continued discussions about the operation itself, and/or the participants that took part, jeopardize the safety of those involved and their families."

Pfarrer commented that he would not have written the book if nothing had been said, but "[t]he administration started it by giving out all this information which happens to be different [from] what I heard.  I did talk to people connected to the mission but changed names and operational details so national security would not be affected.  This administration compromised the mission for political reasons."  

There are articles that dispute some of the historical facts in the book.  For example, the editors of the blog Small Wars Journal claim, "Pfarrer recounts the 1998 bombing of the U.S. embassy in Mombassa, Kenya, when the attack actually occurred in Nairobi. The date for an alleged AQI nerve gas attack in Iraq is alternatively given as May 2003, May 2007, and then in May 2003 again over the course of one chapter. Pfarrer claims that both Zarqawi and bin Laden's voices were captured by signal intercepts despite both terrorists being notoriously vigilant about not using cell phones or other means of electronic communications."  Pfarrer freely admits that errors were made, which he says will be corrected in the next edition, yet he strongly argues that the existence of historical errors does not mean that he was wrong about substantial portions of the mission.

In differing with the administration's details about the mission, Pfarrer gives some plausible and some not-so-plausible explanations.  What does not seem plausible in the book is the statement that al-Qaeda had chemical weapons.  Citing WikiLeaks document as well as some articles, Pfarrer tries to make the argument that OBL was told by Saddam Hussein's intelligence services where the weapons were buried, whereupon bin Laden had them collected and shipped secretly to him through Pakistan and Iran.

Michael Hayden, the former CIA director, was asked if this could be a remote possibility.  He replied, "Given the way the American intelligence community has been beaten up on that estimate, if we had evidence that Hussein had chemical weapons, don't you think we would tell you now?"

Another interesting point, but one that does not seem to be proven, is Pfarrer's assertion that Ayman Zawahiri set up OBL because Zawahiri wanted to assume the leadership role.  As stated in the book, "Zawahiri tried to get the Russians to kill Bin Laden; they did not. He hoped that Addison's disease would take him, but it did not.  Now Ayman Zawahiri played his final card -- he deliberately used a blown courier to communicate with Osama, and the inevitable happened.  The Americans found him."

When asked to give his opinion on this possibility, Hayden responded that "that is so unbelievable that it proves my point that we should not be rushing to write history.  That seems improbable.  Things need a little time to settle before the historical record is crafted."

What is truly believable is Pfarrer's discussion of what happened during the actual operation.  Pfarrer attests to the fact that he actually spoke to those involved in the operation and is upset that Kim Dozier, in her AP article about the book, and U.S. Special Operations Command spokesman Colonel Tim Nye have attempted to discredit him.  LTC Jonathan Allen, a SOCOM spokesman, told American Thinker, "No one has been granted access to any Special Operations Forces that were involved in the operation that resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden.  You could also review the story AP ran on 15 Nov [the Kim Dozier article], where he [Nye] is quoted."

Pfarrer responded, "The viciousness of the way they are coming at me is hard to understand.  They put my reputation out in the street because of my desire to set the record straight.  I encourage Ms. Dozier to post the sound file of our interview, the unedited version.  I could not source any military people I talked with because they would have been fired or disciplined."  Besides the author's point, Allen's quote refers to access granted but says nothing about those who might speak on background. 

Looking at the administration's dialogue on the raid, they reported initially that OBL "fought back."  This take was corrected by John Brennan, Obama's counterterrorism czar, to say that OBL was killed while going for a weapon, but this new testimony was changed to bin Laden being unarmed.  Then there was the New Yorker article that stated that two shots hit OBL, one in the chest and one in the head, and that "[a] second SEAL stepped into the room and trained the infrared laser of his M4 on bin Laden's chest. The Al Qaeda chief, who was wearing a tan shalwar kameez and a prayer cap on his head, froze; he was unarmed[.]"

When asked why it matters how OBL was killed -- after all, he is dead, and that is what counts -- Pfarrer commented, "Remember Eric Holder authorized prosecution for the CIA debriefers and court-martialed four SEALs for punching a captured terrorist in the nose.  They [SEALs] would not have shot an unarmed person just because the administration says to do it.  This is the kind of administration that would court-martial someone for doing it.  It is very telling in the book when I recounted that when the president asked 'which one of you guys took out Bin Laden, they answered 'we all did, Sir.'"

Pfarrer also was rightly upset about the fact -- and he points this out in the book -- that the intelligence information should not have been made public.  He explained, "The administration had the crown jewels of al-Qaeda intelligence, only to have it squandered and wasted."  Pfarrer made a very good point since even President Obama during the May 8 60 Minutes interview compromised the intelligence when he stated that "they [SEALs] had the presence of mind to still gather up a whole bunch of bin Laden's material, which will be a treasure trove of information that could serve us very well in the weeks and months to come.  But we anticipate that it can give us leads to other terrorists that we've been looking for a long time, other high value targets. But [it] also can give us a better sense of existing plots that might have been there, how they operated and their methods of communicating."  Michael Hayden also "was quite surprised at how much information about the raid and its aftermath was made public."

There is also the disparity involving the helicopter crash.  Pfarrer asserts in the book that the helicopter did not crash initially as the administration reported, but landed on the roof, allowing the SEALs to enter OBL's bedroom by the third-floor terrace.  The helicopter crash-landed about twelve minutes into the raid, in the livestock area next to the main house, because of a failure of two flight control systems.  The whole mission did not take approximately 45 minutes, as publicized by the administration.  Pfarrer's proof is that "having been in combat, 45 minutes is an eternity.  Look at the buildings -- there are not any bullet holes in them.  The entire mission was videotaped from above.  The video overhead images of this raid will show when the helicopter crashed.  All those viewing it know that the helicopter crashed during the middle of the mission.  How come the wall was not damaged if it crashed initially?  I have it on excellent first-person authority that the helicopter landed on the roof successfully."

Because so much of this information is classified, Pfarrer's narrative cannot be fully proven or disproven.  There are those in the military who feel that too much information has already been given out, jeopardizing the SEALs and their families, while others have commented that this book is a fabrication.  In defending himself, Pfarrer noted that "no one had refuted individual points of my story, yet they have called the book a fabrication.  I know everything about this operation, good and bad.  I stand by what I wrote."  He made good points regarding some of his arguments, while there is skepticism about other arguments.  American Thinker feels that the truth lies somewhere in between.