Updated 6:21 p.m.
The mission was twofold: first and foremost, kill Osama bin Laden. Then, once the deed was done and the troops were back safe, help re-elect the president of the United States by promoting the death of the world’s most wanted terrorist.
That’s the accusation in “No Easy Day,” the firsthand account of the bin Laden raid from Matt Bissonette, a former member of SEAL Team 6. Copies of the book, due out next week, were obtained by the Huffington Post and by the Associated Press’ Kim Dozier.
In the excerpts they present, Bissonette praises President Obama for giving the green light to attack bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad. But even before the mission began, Bissonette and his fellow SEALs knew that the raid would be played up by the White House for political purposes.
“We’ll get Obama re-elected for sure. I can see him now, talking about how he killed bin Laden,” one SEAL said, according to Bissonette.
Bissonette adds: “We all knew the deal. We were tools in the toolbox, and when things go well they promote it. They inflate their roles. But we should have done it. It was the right call to make. Regardless of the politics that would come along with it, the end result was what we all wanted.”
The degree to which the White House took credit for — and leaked information about — the bin Laden raid has already become a contentious campaign issue. “No Easy Day,” written by Bissonette under a pseudonym and co-authored by the journalist Kevin Maurer, won’t exactly relieve that strain.
In an interview with CBS News, Bissonette insists that there’s no partisan impulse behind the book. ”It’s not political whatsoever. It doesn’t bad mouth either party,” he says. This is a book about September 11th, and it needs to rest on September 11th. Not be brought into the political arena, because this– this has nothing to do with politics.”
But intentionally or not, Bissonette and his memoir are fully in that arena. A political action committee backed by right-wing activists and claiming to represent former special operations forces has gone after the “countless leaks, interviews and decisions by the Obama administration” that have “put future missions and personnel at risk.” Republicans have teased Obama for playing up his role in the mission. “He pats himself on the back every night for continuing the aggressive search for bin Laden started by George Bush,” said one surrogate for Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign.
Obama administration internal messages, released yesterday by Judicial Watch, provide fresh details about the promotional push that followed the bin Laden raid. The CIA, for example, helped a pair of White House-friendly filmmakers, Mark Boal and Kathryn Bigelow, arrange interviews with two of the men who accompanied Bissonette on the mission to Abbottabad. “I know we don’t pick favorites but it makes sense to get behind a winning horse,” agency spokesperson Marie Harf wrote. “Mark and Kathryn’s movie is going to be the first and the biggest. It’s got the most money behind it, and two Oscar winners on board.”
Bissonette writes that the initial accounts of the raid, leaked by administration officials, were bordering on Tinseltown, as well. A claimed 40-minute gunfight between the SEALs and al-Qaida operatives never happened. Nor was bin Laden shot while reaching for a gun, as officials originally claimed. In fact, the terrorist was unarmed and didn’t even bother to defend himself. ”The raid was being reported like a bad action movie,” Bissonette says. “At first, it was funny because it was so wrong.”
Later, Bissonette and his fellow SEALs met the president. At the end of the meeting, Obama invited the troops to the White House for a beer at a later date. A few weeks later, Bissonette asked a teammate if he heard anything about the beer. The reply, according to the author: “You believed that shit. I bet you voted for change too, sucker.”