In May 2011 US Navy SEALs raided a house in Abbottabad, Pakistan where they shot and killed Osama Bin Laden. The man who pulled the trigger has echoed claims that the photos published by media outlets are all fake, and that there are at least 20 pictures that the US government are withholding from the public.
O'Neill raised his objections while talking with El Mundo to promote his forthcoming book The Operator, the second book to be published about the Abbottabad raid by one of the men who were there. He commented on the widely-circulated photos purporting to be of Bin Laden's corpse, ‘Those that have been published to date are fake', elaborating:
"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."
However, Freedom of Information requests to the Pentagon have been refused, on the grounds the DoD cannot find any copies of any photographs of Bin Laden's corpse. This is because all the pictures were transferred to the CIA shortly after the raid. An email from VADM William McRaven, commander of the Pentagon's Joint Special Operations Command, sent just days after the raid told the SEALs that:
"One particular item that I want to emphasize is photos; particularly UBLs remains. At this point — all photos should have been turned over to the CIA; if you still have them destroy them immediately or get them to the [redacted]."
The conservative governmental watchdog Judicial Watch filed a lawsuit against the CIA to try to get access to these pictures but in 2012 a judge ruled in the CIA's favour. The Agency argued that releasing the photos might compromise secret CIA methods and sources, even though Owen's book describes the SEALs simply taking pictures with ordinary cameras. In 2013 an appeals court upheld the CIA's refusal to release the photos, accepting the Obama administration's argument that making them public could result in reprisals and revenge attacks against Americans.
'The Skull Opened in Half'
O'Neill also provided new details on the condition of Bin Laden's body which contradict all previous versions of events. According to O'Neill, Bin Laden's head was half destroyed by the trio of bullets fired from his weapon. He said:
"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."
Mark Owen (the psuedonym of Matt Bissonnette) says that he was the second man up the stairs behind O'Neill, and that he saw O'Neill shoot Bin Laden. However, his descriptions of the body, particularly the head, are radically different from O'Neill's. According to Owen he largely identified Bin Laden due to his distinctive nose, which O'Neill says was crushed. Owen wrote in No Easy Day:
"A hole in his forehead collapsed the right side of his skull… The more I looked at his mangled face, my eye seemed to go back to his nose. It wasn't damaged and seemed familiar. Pulling my booklet out of my kit, I studied the composite photos. The long and slender nose fit."
Likewise, in the CIA-assisted film version Zero Dark Thirty Bin Laden's face and head are shown largely intact, and no one pieces his skull back together before the photos are taken. After the body was flown to Jalalabad and on to Bagram Air Force base, according to Owen McRaven asked to see it, and even ordered a SEAL to lie down next to the body for comparison as Bin Laden was notoriously tall and initially McRaven wasn't sure it was really him. This scene does not appear in Zero Dark Thirty, and instead a female CIA agent unzips the body bag, and examines the corpse, revealing Bin Laden's intact and largely undamaged head.
Despite these contradictions, Owen and O'Neill are certain that they got the right man. O'Neill told El Mundo:
"In spite of everything, he could be recognized. I did not have the slightest doubt that it was him."
However, the contrasting account offered by O'Neill is likely to fuel more speculation about the raid and whether or not it really was Bin Laden that the SEALs killed. As Chris Farnham, then Senior Watch Officer for Strafor Global Intelligence, commented in an email on the night of the Abbottabad raid:
"Bogus pics and bogus news stories of burials at sea. Makes the US look dodgy and encourages distrust that the whole thing is real…., conspiracy, CIA, Illuminati, etc. Wonder if it's just a confluence of events or just a consequence of the internet and the loonies it brings out."