CBS News anchor Scott Pelley was stunned when the ex-Navy SEAL author of No Easy Day told him members of SEAL Team 6 were napping on the helicopter ride over to Osama bin Laden's hideout. But one explanation that occurs often in the book is that members of SEAL Team 6, apparently, are extensive users of potent sleeping pills such as Ambien. However, Pelley failed to raise the question of sleeping pills during last night's episode. Here's how the exchange went:
Matt Bissonnette: It was roughly an hour and a half [helicopter ride]. I remember you know, we took off, shut the doors, and the radio call I heard was you know, "Hey, we're over the border. We're crossing the border into Pakistan." And I remember thinking, "Wow, this is-- OK, this is happening." And I swear, I glance around the helicopter and half the guys are sitting there asleep on the ride in. It was an hour and a half ride. Guys gotta catch a few Zs on the way in.
Scott Pelley: Wait a minute. Your team is flying in to Osama bin Laden's compound, and they're asleep?
Matt Bissonnette: Yeah, no, it's your time to just kind of shut your eyes, relax, you know? Mentally walk through whatever you need to walk through.
From Bissonnette's response, you might chalk up the SEAL team's ability to sleep before the most important mission of their lives to zen-like preparedness. While that may be true, one thing we were struck by after reading Bissonnette's book over the weekend was his many references to popping Ambien pills, a point that could plausibly explain falling asleep during an "hour and a half" helicopter ride to bin Laden's lair. Here are the numerous times Bissonnette mentions taking Ambien in his book during various missions:
we were level, guys started to pop Ambien and settle in for the long flight.
Gathering our bags and shaking off the Ambien, we walked silently off the back of the C-17 and directly onto the C-130.
I popped two Ambien. No one was getting any rest without sleeping pills.
I didn’t feel tired. The only evidence I’d slept was the empty baggie that once held a couple of Ambien and a handful of empty bottles now filled with urine.
My head was still cloudy from the Ambien. Pressing the numbers, I tried the doorknob. No luck.
“How did you sleep?” I said.
“Like shit,” Charlie said. “You take any Ambien?”
“Two,” he said.
I took two Ambien and was fast asleep before we got out of Afghan airspace.
We were still shaking off the haze of the Ambien.
I didn’t sleep well that night. I’d squirreled away a couple of Ambien. There was no way I was going to sleep without them.
All told, Bissonnette writes that he took at least six Ambien pills, two at a time, between the time he departed the U.S. for Abbottabad, Pakistan and when he returned a week later. Now obviously, SEALs work under crazy circumstances having to fly anywhere at a moment's notice, which could understandably require sleeping pills. But as CNN's Larry Shaughnessy notes, there are some potentially hazardous side effects that can result from so much Ambien use:
Available by prescription, Ambien is known to cause some potentially troubling side effects including sleep walking, hallucinations and amnesia, according to Dr. Thomas LoRusso, the medical director of the Northern Virginia Sleep Diagnostic Center ...
Ambien generally comes in 10 milligram pills but there's also a 5 milligram dose. Bissonnette does not say what dose he took. Medical literature advises that no more than 10 mg should be taken daily and the U.S. military agrees.
Far be it from us to say the SEALs have an Ambien problem: clearly they got the job done. But any conversation about how the SEALs were sleeping mere moments before the raid went down seems problematic without mentioning the sleeping pills the SEALs were taking. The full 60 Minutes interview appears below:
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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