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'SEAL Team' Film Adds Drama To Bin Laden Raid

Nov 4, 2012
Originally published on November 4, 2012 12:08 pm

The story of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden has captured the imagination of authors and film directors.

Just this year, the mission carried out by Navy SEAL Team Six has already been re-told in three books, including one written by a former Navy SEAL. Acclaimed film director Katherine Bigelow, who directed the film The Hurt Locker, is getting ready to release her treatment of the bin Laden raid in December.

On Sunday night, the National Geographic Channel will air its film about the raid, SEAL Team Six: The Raid on Osama bin Laden.

The timing of the premiere of SEAL Team Six has drawn a lot of attention in political circles since there's a presidential election happening Tuesday. On the campaign trail and in the debates, President Obama has reminded voters time and again of his role in the raid.

Weekend Edition host Rachel Martin talked with NPR's Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman about where the filmmakers got their information and how much of it is accurate.

One early scene of the film shows an interrogation at Guantanamo Bay, where a detainee gives important information about one of bin Laden's couriers. Bowman says that's not quite how it happened.

"There were no interrogations at Guantanamo Bay that we know of that played a role in the hunt for bin Laden," Bowman says. He does say, however, that a detained al-Qaida operative named Hassan Ghul did provide information about the courier that led to Osama bin Laden.

Bowman says it also wasn't just one interview or interrogation that led to the location of Osama bin Laden's compound, and was in fact a lot more complicated.

The climax of the film, of course, is the raid on that compound and the killing of Osama bin Laden by SEAL Team Six. Based on what we know about that night, Bowman says this is the part where the filmmakers got a lot correct; from the method of getting into the compound to the number of helicopters involved and the crashing of one of those helicopters.

Some discrepancies in the film's depiction of the raid are the number of gun battles that occurred, the presence of Pakistani police outside the compound and the manner in which Osama bin Laden was actually killed, Bowman says.

In the film, bin Laden is killed the way the official story was given from the White House, with Navy SEALs bursting into the room and shooting him once in the chest and once in the face. Bowman says it was later revealed that it happened a bit differently.

"We [now] know that he was shot as the SEALs were coming up the stairs, they saw a guy poke his head out and shot at him," Bowman says. "As they came into the room bin Laden was on the ground in his death throes." He says one of the SEALs then shot bin Laden in the chest several times, killing him.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Back here in the United States, the Obama campaign has been doing some messaging of its own, reminding voters time and again of President Obama's role in the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. The story of the raid has captured the imagination of authors and film directors. Just this year, the mission carried out by Navy SEAL Team Six has already been retold in three books, including one written by a former Navy SEAL. Acclaimed film director Katherine Bigelow, who directed the film "The Hurt Locker," is getting ready to release her treatment of the bin Laden raid in December. And tonight, the National Geographic Channel will air a film called "Seal Team Six: The Raid on Osama bin Laden."

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "SEAL TEAM SIX: THE RAID ON OSAMA BIN LADEN")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (as character) Tonight, we know why we are here. Tonight, we fight for something truly greater than ourselves. Tonight, we ride.

MARTIN: The timing of the premiere of this film, "Seal Team Six," has drawn a lot of attention in political circles. Remember, there's a presidential election happening on Tuesday. We got a sneak peek of the film and we asked our Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman to help us do a little fact checking here. Tom Bowman joins me now in the studio. Good morning.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Hi, Rachel.

MARTIN: OK. So, let's get into the specifics and talk about what stood out to you. One of the first scenes in this film is an interrogation at Guantanamo Bay back in 2002. The film shows one of the detainees giving key information about one of bin Laden's couriers. We have a clip of this. Let's play a little.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "SEAL TEAM SIX: THE RAID ON OSAMA BIN LADEN")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (as character) And there are 25 million green reasons for you to help us find the man we want.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: (as character) I have nothing. I have nothing.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: I know. That's why I'm letting the Saudis bother you.

MARTIN: It's a very ominous clip. I mean, how accurate is this, Tom? Was there one key interrogation at Guantanamo Bay that played a role in the hunt of bin Laden?

BOWMAN: Well, there were no interrogations at Guantanamo Bay that we know of that played a role in the hunt for bin Laden. There was one al-Qaida operative named Hassan Ghul who did provide information about the courier, and the courier led them to Osama bin Laden. And also they mentioned here in this clip, we are going to turn you over to the Saudis. And nothing I've seen indicates that they were going to turn anybody over to the Saudis, where there are definitely, you know, harsh interrogation techniques, some would say torture used by the Saudis and other in the Middle East to pry information out of people. And it was more than interrogation. Hey used other means to get to this courier - voice intercepts, they picked up telephone calls and so forth.

MARTIN: It's far more complicated than one big interview.

BOWMAN: It was a lot more complicated than they had it in the movie.

MARTIN: Go figure. So, the climax of the film is, of course, the actual raid that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "SEAL TEAM SIX: THE RAID ON OSAMA BIN LADEN")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: (as character) Stalker one on ground.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #5: (as character) Let's go.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #6: (as character) Out. Move, move, move.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #5: (as character) Out, out, out.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #6: (as character) To the wall, to the wall.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #7: (as character) We will not be amending the mission. We have a helicopter down in the courtyard. My men are prepared and they will deal with it.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #8: (as character) To the wall. Everybody line up.

MARTIN: So, Tom, how accurate is the film in depicting what we know actually happened on the ground the night of the raid?

BOWMAN: Well, they got a lot of this right - the Navy SEALs coming in from Afghanistan, from Jalalabad, going into this compound in Abbottabad, the number of helicopters that came in, the fact that one of them crashed into the compound. That was all right.

MARTIN: But what were the biggest discrepancies between the film and reality?

BOWMAN: Well, in the movie, in the compound itself where they found bin Laden, there were several exchanges of gunfire. And we know that there was only one exchange of gunfire. The courier was killed. He shot wildly with his AK-47 and he was shot dead by the Navy SEALs. The film, however, shows several exchanges of gunfire and that clearly did not happen. And another thing was there were no Pakistani police outside the compound. The movie shows these police showing up in the middle of the raid. It was a very tense situation. But, again, we know from accounts that a couple of neighbors showed up, were trying to find out what's going on, and they were basically shooed away by the CIA translator on the scene. And how bin Laden died is another point of contention. In the movie, they show the SEALs bursting into his room, bin Laden standing there. They push his wife aside and they shoot him twice - once in the chest and once in the face.

MARTIN: Which is how the White House initially described his death.

BOWMAN: That's absolutely right. Initially, the White House said he was standing and he was shot dead. But after that, from account, we know that he was shot - as the SEALs were coming up the stairs, they saw a guy poke his head out. They shot at him and when they came into the room, bin Laden was on the ground in his death throes. And one of the SEALs pushed his wife aside and shot bin Laden numerous times in the chest, killing him.

MARTIN: What else struck you when you watched this film as any possible inconsistency with what actually happened?

BOWMAN: Well, one that jumps out at me is the film suggests there were three options to go after bin Laden. One was bombing the site, another was the commando raid, of course, is what happened, how they killed bin Laden, and the other was this supposedly joint Pakistani-U.S. raid. Now, the film does acknowledge that partnering with Pakistan could have led to bin Laden being tipped off about the raid. What the film leaves out is context about this. From the get-go, President Obama said we're not going to inform Pakistan about what we're doing.

MARTIN: Tom Bowman is NPR's Pentagon correspondent, helping us with some fact checking on the new film, "SEAL Team Six." The film airs tonight on the National Geographic Channel. Tom, thanks so much.

BOWMAN: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.