(ANTIMEDIA) — A Navy SEAL who participated in the execution of Osama bin Laden in 2011 claimed last week that a previous picture purporting to show notorious terrorist’s corpse is fake, calling on the U.S. government to release the real documentation.
Robert O’Neill told El Mundo, a widely circulated newspaper in Spain, about his views on the pictures in an interview published Friday.
“All of the pictures that were published of the corpse were fake. Someone in Washington should start publishing the 20 that we did. He appears with a smashed nose and his head cut open in half. We had to put both pieces together to be able to take the pictures. He had whiter hair and a shorter beard. I never had any doubts that it was him.”
O’Neill’s recent statements in the El Mundo interview appear to substantiate a statement he made anonymously to Esquire in 2013:
“His forehead was gruesome. It was split open in the shape of a V. I could see his brains spilling out over his face. The American public doesn’t want to know what that looks like.”
After the interview was published, he came forward to identify himself.
To date, the U.S. government has refused to publish official photos, citing national security concerns. Shortly after the killing, a top military leader ordered subordinates to destroy the photos or send them to the CIA. At the same time, fake photos of the terrorist’s corpse circulated and were published by numerous outlets. It is presumably these photos O’Neill is criticizing as he calls on the government to release the official ones.
It has been confirmed that real photos exist — both official and unofficial — as of 2016, Matthew Bissonnette, another SEAL present for the raid, handed over a hard drive to the government that contained unauthorized pictures of the body.
Despite O’Neill’s candid statements over the years, other soldiers present for the killing of bin Laden have criticized him for speaking out. O’Neill faced backlash from fellow veteran John Gilliam in 2014 after taking credit for firing the shots that ultimately killed bin Laden. Gilliam said:
“It’s ridiculous for O’Neill to claim the credit for the fatal shot as we probably never will know and don’t need to know.”
According to Gilliam:
“He served with great distinction, he had a great career and he was a great operator. But he went from hero to zero in the Seal community when he started using his career to cash in and draw crowds as a speaker. This reflects terribly on all of us and does not represent who we are.”
Nevertheless, O’Neill continues to voice his opinion, highlighting the fake, widely-circulated photographs and definitively saying the troops took their own pictures.
“It’s something that I don’t mention in my book, and I would like to say something. I think someone in Washington should start posting some of the photos we took in Abbottabad. There were at least 20, taken with Pentax cameras.”
“Those that have been published to date are fake. I perfectly remember the face of bin Laden. His nose was crushed and the skull opened in half. We had to put both pieces together so we could take the pictures.”
The official story has proven highly controversial, with famed journalist Seymour Hersh questioning the sequence of events and, in turn, receiving mainstream backlash against his reporting. Further, in 2001, Fox News reported bin Laden had died a peaceful death, and in 2011, skepticism surrounded the government’s assertion that they had buried him at sea out of respect for the Islamic faith.
Whether O’Neill’s claims are true or not, his comments are likely to further fuel skepticism of the high-profile raid and execution of one of the United States’ most loathed enemies.
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