'SEAL Team Six' Gets Some Of Bin Laden Raid Right The National Geographic Channel's movie about the raid that killed Osama bin Laden premieres Sunday night. Weekend Edition host Rachel Martin spoke with NPR's Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman about how accurate the film is compared to the real story.
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'SEAL Team Six' Gets Some Of Bin Laden Raid Right

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'SEAL Team Six' Gets Some Of Bin Laden Raid Right

'SEAL Team Six' Gets Some Of Bin Laden Raid Right

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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."


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.


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.


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.


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.


MARTIN: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News.

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