Osama bin Laden shooter controversy grows
Just when you thought you had read enough about the Navy SEAL Team 6 sniper who killed Osama bin Laden, Esquire magazine takes the story one step further and features a Brooklyn deli that reconstructs "The Shooter's breakfast sandwich." Seriously, see for yourself: http://bit.ly/VkHX68.
According to the original Esquire magazine feature on "The Shooter," the commando was back at the U.S. base in Bagram, Afghanistan eating a breakfast sandwich, when the full weight of killing Al Qaeda's leader hits him.
The 15,000-word feature by journalist Phil Bronstein, executive chairman of the Center for Investigative Reporting, was a gripping read based on a year worth of interviews with the retired sniper. (Bronstein is not only a well-known journalist but was once married to Sharon Stone and had his foot mauled by a 10-foot Komodo Dragon).
The tragedy of the piece was the claim that once the SEAL retired from the elite unit he was left bereft - no health care, job, or security for his family. He had served 16 years, retiring four years shy of the 20-year mark when a modest pension and benefits kicked in
This was the provocative magazine cover:
Attacks on the article came quickly. The Stars and Stripes refuted the SEAL's claim, saying all combat veterans are eligible for free health care through the Veterans Affairs Department.
Bronstein responded that "the Shooter" was unaware of the VA benefits at the time of the interview. Esquire later appended a note: "A previous version of this story misstated the extent of the five-year health care benefites offered to cover veterans of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan."
There was a brief back-and-forth summarized by Andrew Beaujon on Poynter's website.
Esquire posted this response following the Stars and Stripes piece:
"So if there are people out there, journalists included, who think that the status quo is hunky dory, the government’s approach to these extraordinary veterans is just right or even adequate, and who are too quick to incorrectly call another journalist’s work “wrong” rather than doing their own work on the profound problems of returning veterans, then, as the cover of the magazine says, the man who killed Osama bin Laden truly is screwed."
Yesterday the Navy Times ran a piece quoting Rear Adm. Sean Pybus that claimed the SEAL knew what would happen after he left the unit. "Months ahead of his separation, he was counseled on status and benefits, and provided with options to continue his career until retirement eligible. Claims to the contrary in these matters are false," he said.
Although there was much public sympathy for the retired SEAL (one caller to the Toronto Star offered to send money to help his family), the Navy Times reports that sailors and veterans on a Navy blog and Facebook page were genearlly unsupportive. "I just don't understand why you would get out after 16 years without a plan," one commentator wrote, according to the Navy Times.
Bin Laden may be dead but the story of his killing lives on.
Michelle Shephard is the Toronto Star's National Security correspondent and author of "Decade of Fear: Reporting from Terrorism's Grey Zone." She is a three-time recepient of Canada's National Newspaper Award. Follow her on Twitter @shephardm