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Esquire stands by its Osama bin Laden story amid storm of criticism

Esquire’s bombshell cover story about the “the man who killed Osama bin Laden” is being pulled apart at the seams, but in a statement to Foreign Policy, the magazine says “We stand by our story.” On Tuesday, CNN’s national security analyst Peter Bergen reported an account from a SEAL Team 6 member who said the ...

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Esquire’s bombshell cover story about the “the man who killed Osama bin Laden” is being pulled apart at the seams, but in a statement to Foreign Policy, the magazine says “We stand by our story.”

On Tuesday, CNN’s national security analyst Peter Bergen reported an account from a SEAL Team 6 member who said the Esquire story is “complete B-S.” The dispute centers on allegations that the Esquire subject exaggerated his role in the raid and fabricated key elements of the story.

In the magazine’s account, the anonymous SEAL, identified only as “The Shooter,” says he took the critical shot that fell bin Laden after a direct confrontation with the al Qaeda leader. But the CNN account says another SEAL had already “gravely” wounded bin Laden with a shot in the head: By the time “the Shooter” found bin Laden, the terrorist leader was already on the ground (practically dead).

This may sound like a lot of he-said, she-said, but it’s a huge deal in the Special Forces community where operators were already angry that the “Shooter” blabbed to the press. The fact that he allegedly told the wrong story compelled other operators to speak out, they say.

Though the CNN story doesn’t mention it, the veracity of the Esquire story already came under criticism this week by Brandon Webb, a former Navy SEAL and editor of The Special Operations Forces Situation Report (SOFREP), a well-regarded blog that has close access to Navy SEALs. Just like CNN, Webb’s report claims the “Shooter” wasn’t the one who pulled the key shot.”Sorry to rain on your parade,” he writes. “But your guy is not the actual shooter.”

It’s worth mentioning that the CNN and SOFREP claims about who really took down bin Laden are also corroborated by the bestselling book No Easy Day by outed SEAL Team 6 member Matt Bissonnette. “Present and former members of SEAL Team 6 say they regard Bissonnette as more credible than the Shooter,” says Bergen 

Interestingly, all of this controversy neglects the original reason the Esquire story came under criticism: It was discovered that the article’s author, Phil Bronstein, failed to mention the medical benefits the “Shooter” was entitled to by the Department of Veterans Affairs. (The gist of the story was how the government abandoned the former Navy SEAL who became financially unstable after he left the service. Megan McCloskey at Stars and Stripes fact-checked the piece.) In Esquire’s current issue, which just arrived on doorsteps, that mistake garnered a correction.

Regardless, in a statement from an Esquire spokeswoman, the magazine stands by its story:

The Esquire article, The Shooter: The Man Who Killed Osama Bin Laden, in the March 2013 issue, is based on information  from numerous sources, including members of Seal Team 6 and the Shooter himself, as well as detailed descriptions of mission debriefs.  We stand by our story.  

This morning Esquire editor-in-chief David Granger reiterated the magazine’s position in a blog post on its website. 

John Hudson is a senior reporter at Foreign Policy, where he covers diplomacy and national security issues in Washington. He has reported from several geopolitical hotspots, including Ukraine, Pakistan, Malaysia, China, and Georgia. Prior to joining FP, John covered politics and global affairs for the Atlantic magazine’s news blog, the Atlantic Wire. In 2008, he covered the August war between Russia and Georgia from Tbilisi and the breakaway region of Abkhazia. He has appeared on CNN, MSNBC, BBC, C-SPAN, Fox News radio, Al Jazeera, and other broadcast outlets. He has been with the magazine since 2013. @john_hudson

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