Last night, minutes before the world premier of the new film SEAL Team Six: The Raid on Osama bin Laden in Washington, D.C., director John Stockwell made a brief announcement to attendees: The facts in his film were not "confirmed or denied" by White House officials. When the movie's ending credits rolled 90-minutes later, that fact was abundantly clear.
The action-adventure flick, which chronicles the U.S. intelligence and military effort to capture bin Laden, strays from established reporting and official disclosures surrounding the May 1 raid in a number of ways. Mind you, this is not why the film is controversial: For that, look no further than its release date, two days before the election, and financier, Obama donor Harvey Weinstein. While film critics have called the movie a November "Obama booster," the filmmakers have denied meddling into politics. Either way, the account of the film should not be taken as gospel when it comes to key facts pertaining to the raid. Here are the discrepancies we noticed:
Who opposed the bin Laden raid? The film attempts to dramatize President Obama's decision to order the hit on bin Laden by emphasizing the opposition to the raid within his cabinet. While it's true that Vice President Biden opposed the raid, the movie states that Defense Secretary Robert Gates also opposed the raid. In fact, he did not.
The Pakistani Doctor Who Helped the CIA. The film also features Shakil Afridi, the Pakistani doctor who helped the CIA run a phony vaccination campaign in an effort to gather the DNA of bin Laden's family members in Abbottabad. In the film, Afridi is portrayed as a kind of valiant hero who acknowledges the importance of bringing bin Laden to justice. However, that's baloney. The CIA never told Afridi his mission was to find bin Laden, they couldn't trust him with that highly classified information. Afridi has acknowledged this in interviews with reporters. "I didn’t know about a specific target." He simply ran the vaccination campaign without knowing the purpose.
Helmet cams. In the film, when the Navy SEALs arrive in Abbottabad, each of them have helmet cams transmitting a live broadcast back to CIA headquarters. That was an early myth propagated by CBS News in the aftermath of the raid. The New Yorker and other publications confirmed that the cameras didn't exist and the White House couldn't view the incident in real-time once the SEALs entered the house. "The SEALs were not wearing helmet cams, contrary to a widely cited report by CBS," wrote the magazine. (Aerial drones did provide a real-time view of the outside premises, but obviously couldn't transmit video from inside the compound.)
Kill or capture mission. Much has been speculated about whether the Navy SEALs were given orders to assassinate Osama bin Laden on contact or capture him if possible. Some have alleged that because bin Laden was unarmed, this was likely an assassination mission. Still, no one knows for sure, and the Obama administration resolutely vows that its orders were to capture bin Laden if possible. Despite that, a scene prior to the raid shows Admiral Bill McRaven telling the SEALs that the "preference" of this mission is that there be no detainees.
The firefight. While early accounts depicted the raid as a protracted firefight between the SEALs and bin Laden's followers, it is now believed that the only shots fired by the Abbottabad residents occurred in the guest house when SEALs killed bin Laden's Kuwaiti courier, as chronicled by former Navy SEAL Matt Bissonnette in his book, No Easy Day. However, in the film, that exchange appeared to occur in the building that bin Laden resided in, not the guesthouse.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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