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Jan 10 2017

SIX

Chuck Grassley is not entirely wrong all the time even though he’s a Republican from Iowa (see, I can be bi-partisany). He’s quite correct about The History Channel which is nothing more than another reality show network at this point (love The Curse of Oak Island by the way).

Small islands aside I have little use for it. My Aunty Mame in Maine calls it the “War Channel”, I only wish, but it is militaristic if entirely fictional. SIX is a haiography of SEAL Team 6.

Or maybe not.

‘SIX’ Trailer: History’s Intense Navy SEAL Thriller Has a Mission
Mandi Bierly, Yahoo
December 29, 2016

Rip (Taggart)’s in need of saving even before he’s taken.

The series begins two years earlier, when Rip, still with the team, crosses a line on a mission in Afghanistan. “He loses a sense of who he is and what he represents and what he was fighting for,” David says. “He needs to rediscover his identity.”

Joe Manganiello was originally cast as Rip, but when he fell ill early in filming, (Walton) Goggins assumed the role — on just three days’ notice. “We’d structured the whole season — this was going to happen here, this was going to happen here — and Walton came in, and he brought such an electricity to the role and challenged our ideas about who Rip was and where we could go with him,” David says.

As Goggins remembers, when he first spoke with David, Bill, and fellow executive producer/writer Bruce C. McKenna (Band of Brothers, The Pacific, they told him Rip had done some “questionable things.”

“I said, ‘Rip is a war criminal. You can say what you want to say, but that’s what he is, so let’s start from the truth. Let’s start from that point and how did he get there, and what is his emotional state when you meet him, and ultimately where do you want to take him. For me, I want to go on a journey of personal redemption and one that takes into consideration the havoc that war has reaped on his soul,’” he says. “They were more than willing to go there.”

Yup. Our beloved country tortures and murders people. Barack Hussein Obama (D) is equally culpable with George Walker Bush (R).

Welcome to “Good” Germany.

You know what I have as my desktop? Die Weiße Rose. I keep it there so I never ever forget who we are.

New Intercept Exposé Uncovers SEAL Team 6’s Ghastly Trail of Atrocities, Mutilations, Killings

A stunning new exposé published today in The Intercept about the elite military unit SEAL Team 6 reveals a darker side of the group best known for killing Osama bin Laden. National security reporter Matthew Cole spent two years investigating accounts of ghastly atrocities committed by members of the unit, including mutilating corpses, skinnings and attempted beheadings. According to sources, senior command staff were aware of the misconduct but did little to stop it—and often helped to cover it up.

The Crimes of SEAL Team 6
Matthew Cole, the Intercept
2017-01-1 11:01:13 GMT

Hyder said that he and a few other SEALs began to bury the casualties near a ravine by piling rocks over them. As he did so, he approached the man Heath had shot. “He was partially alive, faced down, his back to me, and he rolled over. I shot him, finished him. He was dying, but he rolled over and I didn’t know whether he was armed or not. That was the end of that.” Hyder said that his single shot had blasted open the man’s head.

According to Hyder, the encounter ended there. But the retired SEAL who was on the mission tells a different story. According to this source, after shooting the man, who turned out to be unarmed, Hyder proceeded to mutilate his body by stomping in his already damaged skull. When Heath, who witnessed Hyder’s actions, reported them to his team leader in the presence of other members of the team, “several of the guys turned and walked away,” said the retired SEAL. “They were disgusted.” He quoted Heath as saying, “I’m morally flexible but I can’t handle that.” Heath refused to comment for this article.

To understand the violence, you have to begin at Roberts Ridge,” said one former member of SEAL Team 6 who deployed several times to Afghanistan. “When you see your friend killed, recover his body, and find that the enemy mutilated him? It’s a schoolyard mentality. ‘You guys want to play with those rules?’ ‘OK.’” Although this former SEAL acknowledged that war crimes are wrong, he understood how they happen. “You ask me to go living with the pigs, but I can’t go live with pigs and then not get dirty.”

The prevailing narrative about SEAL Team 6 in news coverage, bestselling books, and Hollywood movies is unambiguously heroic; it centers on the killing of Osama bin Laden and high-profile rescue missions. With few exceptions, a darker, more troubling story has been suppressed and ignored — a story replete with tactical brilliance on battlefields around the world coupled with a pattern of silence and deceit when “downrange” actions lead to episodes of criminal brutality. The unit’s elite stature has insulated its members from the scrutiny and military justice that lesser units would have faced for the same actions.

Most SEALs did not commit atrocities, the sources said, but the problem was persistent and recurrent, like a stubborn virus. Senior leaders at the command knew about the misconduct and did little to eradicate it. The official SEAL creed reads, in part: “Uncompromising integrity is my standard. My character and honor are steadfast. My word is my bond.” But after 9/11, another code emerged that made lying — especially to protect a teammate or the command from accountability — the more honorable course of action.

“You can’t win an investigation on us,” one former SEAL Team 6 leader told me. “You don’t whistleblow on the teams … and when you win on the battlefield, you don’t lose investigations.”

Even before the attack on the convoy and the alleged mutilation of the dead Afghan, Hyder had committed at least one killing with questionable justification. Several weeks earlier, in January 2002, Hyder killed an unarmed Afghan man north of Kandahar during the unit’s first ground assault of the war. In that operation, Hyder led a team of Red operators on a nighttime mission to capture suspected al Qaeda militants in a compound. After securing several detainees and cordoning the area, Hyder and his men waited for their helicopters to arrive and extract them. During the mission, the SEALs reported receiving small arms fire from exterior positions, though no one was hit. After 90 minutes, as the helicopters were nearing the rendezvous point, one of the SEALs alerted Hyder that an old man who had been lying in a ditch nearby was walking toward the SEALs’ position.

In an interview, Hyder said the man had approached his position with his arms tucked into his armpits and did not heed warnings from other SEALs to stop. Hyder acknowledged that the man likely did not understand English and probably couldn’t see very well. Unlike the SEALs, the man was not wearing night-vision goggles. “He continued to move towards us,” Hyder said. “I assessed he was nearing a distance where he was within an area where he could do damage with a grenade.” Hyder said that a week earlier, a militant had detonated a concealed grenade after approaching some American CIA officers, seriously injuring them. “He kept moving toward us, so at 15 meters I put one round in him and he dropped. Unfortunately, it turned out he had an audiocassette in his hand. By the rules of engagement he became a legitimate target and it was supported. It’s a question, why was he a threat? After all that activity, he’d been hiding in a ditch for 90 minutes, he gets up, he’s spoken to, yelled at in the dark … it’s disturbing. I’m disappointed he didn’t take a knee.”

Hyder, who was the ground force commander for the Kandahar operation, was cleared in an after-action review of the shooting. The rules of engagement allowed the ground force commander to shoot anyone he viewed as a threat, regardless of whether they were armed at the time of the shooting. But in the eyes of the enlisted SEALs of Red Team, Hyder had killed a man who didn’t have to die. Two of the operators with Hyder reported afterward that the man was not a threat. One of those operators was Neil Roberts.

The morning after Objective Bull, Red Team gathered at Bagram Air Base. Most of the operators held a meeting to discuss what had happened on the mission. No officers were present, and the enlisted SEALs used the meeting to address Hyder’s alleged mutilation of the dead Afghan the previous day. The discussion covered battlefield ethics. Inside a heated tent, as many as 40 SEAL Team 6 operators asked themselves how they wanted to treat their fallen enemies. Should they seek revenge for Roberts? Was it acceptable, as Hyder had done with the wounded man whom he executed, to desecrate the dead?

“We talked about it … and 35 guys nodded their heads saying this is not who we are. We shoot ’em. No issues with that. And then we move on,” said a former SEAL who was present at the meeting. “There’s honor involved and Vic Hyder obviously traipsed all over that,” he said. “Mutilation isn’t part of the game.”

Nonetheless, Red Team did not report Hyder’s alleged battlefield mutilation, a war crime. In what would become part of a pattern of secrecy and silence, the SEAL operators dealt with the issue on their own and kept the incident from their chain of command.

“The SEALs believe that they can handle the discipline themselves, that’s equal to or greater than what the criminal justice system would give to the person,” said Susan Raser, a retired Naval Criminal Investigative Service agent who led the agency’s criminal division but did not investigate this mission. “They have an internal process that they think is sufficient and they are not inclined to cooperate unless they absolutely have to.” Raser, who conducted investigations into both regular SEAL units and SEAL Team 6, said that in her experience, SEALs simply didn’t report wrongdoing by their teammates.

Senior leaders at the command knew the grisly circumstances of Roberts’s death had unsettled Red Team. “Fifi was mutilated,” said a retired noncommissioned SEAL leader who was involved in internal discussions about how to prevent SEAL Team 6 from seeking revenge. “And then we had to address a very important question, how do you get the guys’ heads straight to mitigate any retaliation for Fifi? Otherwise we knew it’s going to get out of control. A third of the guys literally think they’re Apache warriors, then you had the Muslim way of removing a head. I understand the desire, I don’t condone it, but there was definite retaliation.”

Six days after Objective Bull, the Pentagon announced at a press conference that an airstrike had killed 14 people, who a spokesperson said were “somehow affiliated” with al Qaeda. Sources at SEAL Team 6 who were present during the operation estimated the number of dead was between 17 and 20. Inside the command, the incident became known as the Wedding Party bombing after it was learned that the convoy was driving to a wedding.

One clear sign that all was not right with the command was the way sadism crept into the SEALs’ practices, with no apparent consequences. A few months after Objective Bull, for example, one of Hyder’s operators began taunting dying insurgents on videos he shot as part of his post-operation responsibilities. These “bleed out” videos were replayed on multiple occasions at Bagram Air Base. The operator who made them, a former SEAL leader said, would gather other members of Red Squadron to watch the last few seconds of an enemy fighter’s life. “It was war porn,” said the former SEAL, who viewed one of the videos. “No one would do anything about them.” The operator who made the bleed-out videos was forced out of SEAL Team 6 the following year after a drunken episode at Bagram in which he pistol-whipped another SEAL.

Against this backdrop, in 2006, Hugh Wyman Howard III, a descendant of an admiral and himself a Naval Academy graduate, took command of Red Squadron and its roughly 50 operators. Howard, who has since risen through the ranks and is currently a rear admiral, was twice rejected by his superiors for advanced SEAL Team 6 training. But in 1998, after intervention by a senior officer at Dam Neck, Howard was given a slot on Green Team. Because of Howard’s pedigree, SEAL Team 6 leaders running the training program felt pressure to pass him. After being shepherded through the nine-month training, he entered Red Squadron. Howard took the unit’s identity seriously, and after 9/11, despite the questionable circumstances that led to his ascent, his influence steadily grew.

In keeping with Red Squadron’s appropriation of Native American culture, Howard came up with the idea to bestow 14-inch hatchets on each SEAL who had a year of service in the squadron. The hatchets, paid for by private donations Howard solicited, were custom-made by Daniel Winkler, a highly regarded knife maker in North Carolina who designed several of the period tomahawks and knives used in the movie “The Last of the Mohicans.” Winkler sells similar hatchets for $600 each. The hatchets Howard obtained were stamped with a Native American warrior in a headdress and crossed tomahawks.

At first the hatchets appeared to be merely symbolic, because such heavy, awkward weapons had no place in the gear of a special operator. “There’s no military purpose for it,” a former Red Squadron operator told me. “But they are a great way of being part of a team. It was given as an honor, one more step to strive for, another sign that you’re doing a good job.”

For some of Howard’s men, however, the hatchets soon became more than symbolic as they were used at times to hack dead fighters in Iraq and Afghanistan. Others used them to break doorknobs on raids or kill militants in hand-to-hand combat.

During the first deployments in both Iraq and Afghanistan, it was common practice to take fingers, scalp, or skin from slain enemy combatants for identification purposes. One former SEAL Team 6 leader told me that he feared the practice would lead to members of the unit using the DNA samples as an excuse to mutilate and desecrate the dead. By 2007, when Howard and Red Squadron showed up with their hatchets in Iraq, internal reports of operators using the weapons to hack dead and dying militants were provided to both the commanding officer of SEAL Team 6 at that time, Capt. Scott Moore, and his deputy, Capt. Tim Szymanski.

Howard’s critics argue that the hatchets were emblems of the rogue, at times criminal, conduct on the battlefield the commander was encouraging. “Every one of us is issued and carries a suppressed weapon,” said one former senior SEAL, referring to the Heckler & Koch assault rifles, equipped with silencers, issued to the operators. “There just isn’t a need to carry a two-pound hatchet on the battlefield.” For those who favored them, this former SEAL said, the hatchets could be justified as being no more than knives. “It’s a great way to explain it away, but they have the hatchets to flaunt the law. Our job is to ensure that we conduct ourselves in a way befitting the American people and the American flag. The hatchet says, ‘We don’t care about the Geneva Conventions’ and that ‘we are above the law and can do whatever we want.’”

Critics inside the command were troubled by the combination of battlefield aggression and Howard’s lack of military discipline. A retired noncommissioned officer said Howard’s encouragement and provision of Winkler hatchets was simply adding fuel to the fire. The power of the Native American mascot, he said, was not to be dismissed. Since the 1980s, when Red Team was first created, there were many operators in the unit who had experienced a “metamorphosis of identity and persona” into Native American warriors. “Guys are going out every night killing everything. The hatchet was too intimate, too closely aligned with a tomahawk, to have been a good idea.” The former SEAL, who himself had served in Red during his career, said that by giving operators the weapon of their battlefield persona, Howard sent an unmistakable message to his men: Use it. “That’s when you take away a hatchet,” the retired SEAL said. “Not provide them.”

During one Iraq deployment, Howard returned from a raid to an operations center with blood on his hatchet and his uniform. Back at the base, he gave a speech to a group of analysts and nonoperational officers in which he told them that his bloody appearance was a demonstration of how a battlefield commander should lead. One operator, who confirmed Howard’s remarks, added his own: “That’s the business we’re in.”

The death and attempted decapitation of Neil Roberts on Takur Ghar affected no one so profoundly as Britt Slabinski, the operator who led the rescue team back up the mountain only to find that Roberts was already dead. One former teammate who served with Slabinski described his effort that day — outnumbered and with inferior fire support, taking incoming fire from the moment the helicopter landed — as “one of the most heroic things I’ve ever seen.” On the day when SEAL Team 6 lost its first operator in the post-9/11 era, Slabinski became a unit legend.

After the Chinook miniguns strafed the vehicles and stopped them, Slabinski and his team of snipers landed and moved to a rise several hundred yards away from one of the trucks and began firing sniper rounds at the militants. In that brief firefight, the SEALs killed nearly 20 foreign al Qaeda fighters, some of whom carried U.S. military equipment taken from Takur Ghar. Slabinski told MacPherson that Wolverine had been “really good payback.”

“Just a phenomenal, phenomenal day. We just slaughtered those dudes.” After describing one particular fighter who from a distance had resembled Osama bin Laden, Slabinksi continued: “To this day, we’ve never had anything as good as that. Oh my gosh. We needed that … there was not a better group of people to go and do that. The guys needed that to get back in the saddle because everyone was gun shy.”

“I mean, talk about the funny stuff we do. After I shot this dude in the head, there was a guy who had his feet, just his feet, sticking out of some little rut or something over here. I mean, he was dead, but people have got nerves. I shot him about 20 times in the legs, and every time you’d kick him, er, shoot him, he would kick up, you could see his body twitching and all that. It was like a game. Like, ‘hey look at this dude,’ and the guy would just twitch again. It was just good therapy. It was really good therapy for everybody who was there.”

Shortly after that operation, Slabinski returned to the SEAL Team 6 base at Dam Neck. He was awarded a Navy Cross, the second highest battlefield award for heroism.

Blue Squadron was led at that time by Cmdr. Peter Vasely, a Naval Academy graduate who had not gone through the advanced assault training of Green Team that the other members of SEAL Team 6 had endured. He was an outsider, despite having been at the command for many years. Like Vic Hyder, he struggled to command the respect of his men. Slabinski — experienced, charismatic, and by now legendary — bridged the gap.

According to two senior SEAL Team 6 sources, however, the leadership dynamic in Blue Squadron was a failure. By 2007, the command’s leadership was aware that some Blue Squadron operators were using specialized knives to conduct “skinnings.” Using the excuse of collecting DNA, which required a small piece of skin containing hair follicles, operators were taking large strips of skin from dead enemy fighters. The two leading officers at the command, Moore and Szymanski, were informed that small groups in each of the three squadrons were mutilating and desecrating combatants in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Slabinkski and others in the squadron had fallen under the influence of an obscure war novel, “Devil’s Guard,” published in 1971 by George Robert Elford. The book purported to be a true account of an S.S. officer who with dozens of other soldiers escaped Germany after World War II, joined the French Foreign Legion, and spent years in Vietnam brutalizing the insurgency. The novel, which glorifies Nazi military practices, describes counterinsurgency tactics such as mass slaughter and desecration and other forms of wanton violence as a means of waging psychological warfare against the “savage” Vietnamese.

One telling illustration of what had gone wrong with Blue Squadron occurred on December 17, 2007, during a raid in Helmand province. Slabinski had told his operators that he wanted “a head on a platter.” Although some of the more seasoned SEALs took the statement metaphorically, at least one operator took Slabinski at his word, interpreting it as an order.

Later that night, after Blue Squadron’s assaulters had successfully carried out the raid, killing three or four armed men and recovering weapons and explosives, Vasely and Slabinski conducted a walk-through of the compound. Vasely, who was wearing night-vision goggles, looked through a window and saw one of his operators, his back turned, squatting over the body of a dead militant. Vasely later told investigators he saw the operator moving his hand back and forth over the militant’s neck in a sawing motion. Alarmed at seeing what he believed was a decapitation, he told Slabinski to go inside and see what the young operator was doing. By the time Slabinski entered the room where the dead militant lay, according to three former SEAL Team 6 leaders, the operator had severed much of the dead man’s neck.

Slabinski did not report the decapitation, however. He told Vasely that the operator had been trying to remove the dead fighter’s chest rack, a small vest that can hold ammunition and clips. Slabinski told Vasely, and later, Navy investigators, that there had been “no foul play.”

In 2010, when Slabinski was up for a promotion at the command, SEAL Team 6 leaders conducted two internal inquiries before making a decision. Almost immediately, the issue that received the most scrutiny was the December 2007 attempted beheading. According to two former SEALs, Slabinski told his teammates and superiors that his remark about wanting a head was figurative and not a literal order. By then, there was no question about whether the attempted beheading had occurred; the question was why.

“We didn’t debate whether Slab had told his guys he wanted a head on a platter — he copped to that. The only issue was, was his order real, or just talk?” said one of the retired SEALs involved. “It didn’t make a difference. He said it and one of his operators did it because he believed he was following an order.”

Ten officers and master chiefs voted unanimously against allowing Slabinski to return to the command. At that point, the second inquiry was commissioned by the SEAL Team 6 commanding officer, Pete Van Hooser. Evidence was presented that Slabinski gave an order to shoot all the men they encountered during another raid, whether or not they were armed. According to the New York Times, Afghans accused Blue Squadron of killing civilians during that operation, but a subsequent military investigation determined that all those killed had been armed and hostile. When Slabinski was confronted by the command’s senior enlisted leader about whether he had instructed Blue Squadron operators to kill all males during the operation, code-named Pantera, Slabinski acknowledged that he had done so. The second inquiry also uncovered the “head on a platter” remark as the instigation for the beheading in December 2007, but the command’s senior enlisted leader told Slabinski he would not get the promotion or be allowed to serve at the command again because of the Pantera order. Overall, it had become clear that Slabinski’s run as a leader on the battlefield caused Blue Squadron to come “off the rails,” according to a former SEAL Team 6 leader.

Slabinski has not responded to multiple queries and requests for comment, though he did deny to the New York Times in 2015 that he gave the illegal pre-mission guidance to kill all males. In his interview with the Times, Slabinski asserted that it was he who had witnessed the operator slashing at the dead fighter’s throat, saying, “It appeared he was mutilating a body.” Slabinski portrayed himself as trying to police his men and said that he gave them “a very stern speech.” He claimed to the Times that he told his men, “If any of you feel a need to do any retribution, you should call me.” Slabinski says nothing in the Times story about Vasely ordering him to investigate the scene or the remark about a head on a platter.

“To this day, he thinks the guys turned on him,” said one of the former SEAL Team 6 leaders. “Well, they did. What we didn’t do was turn him in. You will step over the line and you start dehumanizing people. You really do. And it takes the team, it takes individuals to pull you back. And part of that was getting rid of Britt Slabinski.”

Two other SEAL Team 6 leaders with a combined 35 years at the command said the removal of Slabinski and the failure to pursue official punishment was an indictment of the senior officers — they had failed one of their most basic duties, to hold themselves and others accountable for wrongdoing.

On the second floor of the SEAL Team 6 headquarters in the Dam Neck naval annex, a computer, known as the “ops computer,” stores the classified data on every mission the unit has completed for the past decade. Here, commanders returning from a deployment leave their hard drives with technicians who transfer PowerPoints, after-actions reports, and photos of each operation a squadron conducted abroad. The database contains photographs of persons killed by SEAL operators during their missions and other mission documentation.

Some of those photographs, especially those taken of casualties from 2005 through 2008, show deceased enemy combatants with their skulls split open by a rifle or pistol round at the upper forehead, exposing their brain matter. The foreign fighters who suffered these V-shaped wounds were either killed in battle and later shot at close range or finished off with a security round while dying. Among members of SEAL Team 6, this practice of desecrating enemy casualties was called “canoeing.”

The canoeing photos are dramatic documentary evidence of the extreme and unnecessary violence that began to occur during multiple high-risk, exhausting, and traumatizing tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. “There is and was no military reason whatsoever to split someone’s skull open with a single round,” said a former SEAL Team 6 leader. “It’s sport.”

In 2008, tensions began to rise between SEAL Team 6 and the CIA over operations in Afghanistan. Paramilitary officers from the CIA, including a covert joint unit under the agency’s command called the Omega program, worked closely with the SEALs. These small teams of CIA, Seal Team 6, and Afghan commandos operated under the agency’s Title 50 authority, which governs covert activities. This meant there was less oversight over their missions — and less accountability if things went wrong.

Late that year, the CIA joined operators from Gold Squadron for an operation near Jalalabad. According to a CIA officer with direct knowledge of the incident, the CIA requested that the SEALs capture, rather than kill, their militant targets. During the pre-dawn raid, a small team from Gold Squadron breached a compound that was home to an insurgent cell that had targeted a U.S. base. Inside, they found six militants, four in one room, all sleeping with weapons near their beds. Despite orders to detain the men, the SEALs killed all six. In the room with four of the suspected insurgents, four SEALs counted down and canoed each sleeping man with a shot to the forehead. One of their teammates killed the other two targets in another room. All six were photographed.

The CIA team on the operation was angry because they had lost an opportunity to interrogate the suspected militants. “These were guys who were running a cell near our base,” the CIA officer said. “We could’ve used the intel.” Outside the compound, the SEALs were quick to show the photos to others on the assault team. “They were smiling, almost gleeful,” he said. “Canoeing them was funny.”

Vice Adm. William McRaven settled in as the new commander of the Joint Special Operations Command. McRaven became the first Navy SEAL to lead JSOC and was already familiar with Dam Neck’s status as the disrespectful sibling in the U.S. special operations family. In the early 1980s, a group of seasoned enlisted SEAL Team 6 operators kicked McRaven off a training exercise, relieving him of his already tenuous command for being too rule-bound. McRaven was subsequently transferred from the unit.

Just eight months after taking over JSOC, after a series of complaints from the Afghan government over special operations night raids and civilian deaths, McRaven sought to pull Team 6 back from its overly aggressive stance. He ordered a pause in most SEAL and JSOC operations over a two-week period in February 2009. Although the stoppage was not limited to the SEALs, his former unit pushed back against a new set of operational guidelines.

First, the SEALs would now be required to do “call outs” before entering a compound. The intention was to permit women and children to get out of harm’s way before operators conducted their assault. The operators were unhappy about the new restriction, arguing that call outs gave up the tactical advantage of surprise. McRaven’s other directive required a more extensive post-operation review to document and justify combatant deaths. Previously, the command had required only a frontal shot and a profile of each dead militant. The new rule required a full photographic accounting of who was killed, photos of the entire body, where the target was when he dropped, what weapons he held, the vantage point of the operator when he fired, and other atmospherics.

This directive had one primary purpose: to protect U.S. forces from accusations of unjustified killings by Afghan government officials. The photos and other review documents could be shared with local officials to justify operations. But the directive had another benefit. With more extensive photographic documentation, SEAL operators had less time to fire unnecessary rounds into the dead, and they had to use the photos to explain why they fired their weapon. As a result, photographs of canoed enemy fighters virtually ceased to appear in after-action reports.

McRaven’s new orders set off a struggle between the JSOC commander and SEAL Team 6’s enlisted ranks that played out in a series of high-profile hostage rescues ordered by President Obama. The first and best-known was the rescue of Capt. Richard Phillips, captain of the commercial vessel the “Maersk Alabama,” in April 2009 from Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean. Red Squadron snipers killed three pirates who were holding Phillips in a lifeboat. But McRaven, who commanded the operation, had not ordered the snipers to fire, and neither had a SEAL Team 6 officer. The sniper team leader acted under his own “emergency assault” authority to kill the pirates as soon as all three could be taken out at the same time. McRaven, who was informed of the killings only after he knew Phillips was safe, was incensed.

After the operation, $30,000 in cash, which the pirates had stashed in a lifeboat, went missing. The SEALs were suspected of taking the money. The FBI and NCIS investigated two members of Red Squadron and conducted polygraphs, but the money was never recovered and neither of the SEALs was charged.

Then, in October 2010, SEAL Team 6 set out to rescue a British aid worker named Linda Norgrove, who had been taken captive in Afghanistan. The operation, code-named ANSTRUTHER, an homage to Norgrove’s Scottish heritage, was authorized by British Prime Minister David Cameron. The operation commanded high-level interest because Norgrove, though in Afghanistan as an aid worker for DAI, an American NGO, secretly worked with Britain’s MI-6, according to four U.S. military and intelligence sources. Two of these sources told me that the British government informed SEAL Team 6 mission planners that Norgrove worked for the spy agency, and that they had been tracking her movements since the abduction. Asked for comment, the British government told The Intercept that it does not comment on security matters and would “neither confirm nor deny” that Norgrove worked for the intelligence agency.

During a late-night raid at a northern Kunar compound, Silver Squadron operators killed several captors but accidentally killed Norgrove when an inexperienced SEAL threw a fragment grenade at one of the captors.

The operation’s team leader believed that a suicide vest had been detonated by one of the captors, and two Silver Squadron operators initially withheld the fact that a grenade had been thrown. Consequently, the SEALs initially reported to JSOC senior leaders that Norgrove had been killed by her captors.

Later, a JSOC officer watching drone footage of the operation noticed one of the SEALs throw an object that landed and exploded near where Norgrove’s body was found. One of the two SEALs who knew about the grenade eventually told his team leader, who then failed to inform his commanders until he was confronted the next day.

After a joint British-American investigation into the operation identified the failures and recommended that only the SEAL who threw the grenade be punished, McRaven personally traveled to Dam Neck and determined that all three SEALs involved in the cover-up should be thrown out of SEAL Team 6. The “admiral’s mast” was an unprecedented disciplinary action at the command, which had always been allowed to discipline itself. Normally, SEAL Team 6’s commanding officer, a captain, would conduct a captain’s mast, a form of non-judicial punishment. According to a senior JSOC official, the Norgrove operation was an “I told you so moment.” Even so, two of the three SEALs later returned to the unit.

The failure of SEAL Team 6 to hold itself accountable for battlefield atrocities has resulted in lasting consequences for operators at the command. “No one prepared our guys for the collateral damage and the second- and third-order effects of this war,” the former SEAL leader said. “Night after night of kill or be killed. [There was] so much savagery. I’m not condoning the behavior — there’s no justification to hacking a body — but we didn’t prepare them either. If I told you I cut off a head after an operation, explaining that I got caught up in the moment, went over the line one time — you’d have sympathy for me. War is awful and it’s human to go too far, but this isn’t one time. This is multiple times on each deployment.”

Although canoeing as a ritualized form of enemy mutilation ceased to be a widespread practice after McRaven’s clamp-down on the SEALs’ atrocities, it did not entirely cease. And though the gruesome and illegal practice has never been previously reported, at least one canoeing incident is quite well known, if hidden in plain sight.

By the time Robert O’Neill entered Osama bin Laden’s bedroom in the Abbottabad compound on May 2, 2011, the al Qaeda leader was bleeding out on the floor, possibly already dead, after being shot in the chest and leg by the lead assaulter on the raid. That operator, known as Red inside the unit, is still an active-duty member of SEAL Team 6 and has never been publicly identified. O’Neill entered the room, walked over to where bin Laden lay on the floor, and shot him twice in the face. He then stood above the now indisputably dead man and canoed him, firing a round into his forehead and splitting open the top of his skull, exposing his brain. Osama bin Laden had been branded by SEAL Team 6.

O’Neill has not been shy about the fact that he canoed bin Laden. “His forehead was gruesome,” he later told Esquire magazine. “It was split open in the shape of a V. I could see his brains spilling out over his face.” He has even alluded to the grisly practice on Twitter. What he has not done is name the practice or reveal that by canoeing bin Laden he had secured the ultimate war trophy, the culmination of a decade’s worth of bloody “sport” by elements of SEAL Team 6 who considered themselves craftsmen of killing.

The story of the bin Laden raid has been told and retold, but crucial details have never been made public. And from the moment President Obama announced the operation’s successful conclusion in a televised address, a variety of individuals and institutions have sought to profit from the elimination of America’s most hated enemy.

Two different SEALs, Robert O’Neill and Matthew Bissonnette, have publicly taken credit for killing bin Laden. According to multiple sources, both of their accounts contain multiple self-serving falsehoods. The texture of those accounts reveals much about what went wrong with the most celebrated special operations command in the U.S. military. The falsehoods, both significant and slight, demonstrate that even when conducting the most important missions, SEAL Team 6 was unable to rise above the culture of deceit, personal enrichment, and self-aggrandizement that has corrupted a fighting unit legendary for its discipline and code of honor.

“The beauty of what they have constructed,” said a former teammate about how Bissonnette and O’Neill cornered the market on the bin Laden raid, “is that there is only one guy, essentially, who can come forward and say they’re lying — and he won’t ever talk.”

O’Neill’s and Bissonnette’s careers mirrored one another. They each entered Red Squadron at the same time, and were both recipients of the Winkler hatchets handed out by Wyman Howard. They were both talented and competitive, and they were determined to profit from their experiences as SEALs.

Bissonnette was viewed by Howard as the prototypical SEAL Team 6 operator: a college-educated enlisted man with a savvy understanding of tactics and technology. O’Neill, by contrast, was not considered as clever as his teammate, but he was a deadly sniper and had a successful tour as a team leader in Red Squadron.

Both men were notorious among their teammates for their self-promotional tendencies — a trait not well-suited for a “team-first” environment. In the end, their inclusion in the bin Laden raid and their roles defined where they fit in: Bissonnette worked closely with the CIA and SEAL Team 6 superiors during the planning phase to help plot out the assault, and would lead a team of operators to find and kill bin Laden’s courier. O’Neill was chosen as a team leader for a group providing external security but ultimately traded that leadership role for a junior spot on the team he and Bissonnette believed would get the first shot at bin Laden.

The SEALs had been specifically asked to avoid shooting bin Laden in the face. O’Neill’s decision to canoe the al Qaeda leader made him unrecognizable. A SEAL who spoke Arabic interviewed bin Laden’s wives and daughters until he was able to get two positive identifications. O’Neill later implied in the Esquire profile that he shot bin Laden because he wasn’t sure Red’s shots had hit the target. He also claimed that bin Laden had been standing when he fired and that a weapon was visible nearby. Yet immediately after the mission, O’Neill described shooting bin Laden while he was on the floor. The two weapons found on the third floor were not discovered until the rooms were searched. Neither was loaded.

O’Neill’s canoeing of bin Laden cost his teammates precious time, but his final shot to bin Laden’s head was unremarkable to them. They ransacked the compound for documents and media for intelligence, left the survivors inside, and returned to Jalalabad air base with the body.

The Red Squadron assaulters later gathered in a private area of Bagram Air Base and debriefed the mission in front of a military lawyer. The squadron’s commanding officer recorded it on a cellphone. Bissonnette claimed he shot and killed al Kuwaiti and had fired bullets into bin Laden on the third floor. According to three sources familiar with the debrief, Bissonnette never fired his weapon at Kuwaiti. At least two of Bissonnette’s teammates who were with him when al Kuwaiti was killed were angry about the deception — taking credit for a teammate’s actions on a mission was unprecedented and dishonorable — but did not contradict him in the presence of a military lawyer. Several of Bissonnette’s teammates later informed their superiors that he had lied about his actions.

During the debrief, Red was identified as having hit bin Laden with a fatal shot, and O’Neill was credited with putting security rounds into him after bin Laden had already gone down. There was no discussion of a visible weapon, no claims that one of bin Laden’s wives had been used as a shield or a threat. The raid, several of the SEALs said afterward, was one of the easiest missions they’d ever conducted. There were no heroics, and, apart from al Kuwaiti’s shots, no firefight.

Some of the assaulters on the mission were also angry with Bissonnette and O’Neill because they neglected their responsibilities after bin Laden’s son was shot. Instead of helping search and secure the second floor, both headed to the third floor, hoping to get a chance for the historic kill. Both operators were accused of breaking with standard operating procedure to get themselves in position to be among the first to see or kill bin Laden. Morale at Red Squadron fell apart shortly after the team returned to Virginia Beach from Afghanistan. The SEALs in the unit were furious that the White House revealed to the world that Navy SEALs had carried out the raid, violating the traditional code of silence about their missions. Within hours, news trucks and reporters fanned out through the seaside town looking for anything affiliated with Navy SEALs.

O’Neill was soon removed from his role as a team leader in Red Squadron after he was observed publicly bragging in Virginia Beach bars that he was the man who shot bin Laden. Bissonnette left Red Squadron soon after the raid and retired from the Navy almost one year later. He had already set himself up for a profitable future. While on active duty, he’d formed a consulting company with four other SEALs and secured a contract with one of the command’s biggest equipment suppliers.

So now you know. I have no inside track, no magic Rolodex, no connection to “The ‘Intelligence’ Community”. All I know is what I read in the funny papers.

Yeah, ‘Fake’ News. Meaning you don’t want to hear it.

I don’t want you to think I pretend to be virginal and clean. You don’t get to be capo di tutti without blood dripping from your elbows. On the other hand I don’t want to seem to brag about being a one man killing machine. The last time I fired a gun, even in sport, I was 14 and had run out of Camp electives (NRA Certified Marksman I am). My style of assassination is worse, I stick a blade in your guts from behind (you trust me, don’t you?), twist, and watch you bleed out over decades.

It’s incredibly self destructive in a way, each drop comes from me too.

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