The Pentagon is going after Mark Owen for his book, "No Easy Day." To my mind, the military brass should give him a medal.
Not since "All The President's Men" inspired a legion of fledgling journalists has a story had such vocation-luring power. A best-seller just on advance sales, the Navy could close its recruiting stations and still see its enlistment numbers spike. That is how compelling the inside story is of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
Owen was standing on the staircase behind the unidentified Navy SEAL cohort who put a bullet in bin Laden's brain. Owen (real name Matt Bissonnette) pumped a few rounds into the still-twitching 9/11 mastermind's body, standard procedure to ensure the "target" was "down."
None of the Pentagon honchos has a problem with that. The tracking and killing of bin Laden - among other things, payback for the 9/11 massacre - was arguably the finest moment of the War on Terror. The Pentagon brass' collars are starched because they claim the book reveals classified information. They are threatening legal action.
I am not a four-star general (nor do I play one on TV). But I just read the book and, frankly, I don't see a problem.
"No Easy Day" is a page-turning narrative of Owen's decade in special forces, culminating in the nighttime raid on bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. The pages are soaked with fascinating detail and edge-of-the-seat action - I suspect it will have a Pied-Piperish effect on the psyches of military-minded young men. But there is nothing I learned - tactically or strategically - that I had not already otherwise surmised or assumed. The same, I am sure, goes for your run-of-the-mill terrorist.
Granted, Owen's version alters the official story that bin Laden was "resisting." But the point is convincingly made that Terrorist No. 1 might have been armed or wearing a suicide vest. There was no reason to take a chance.
Beyond that, Owen strikes me as the last guy who would place personal gain above the safety of those with whom he served. The book drips with his devotion to the force and the intense loyalty among "teammates." Nor did he write the book primarily to pad his wallet - most of the profits will be donated to military-related charities.
The Pentagon's "classified" objection sounds to me like the boilerplate protest of a command-and-control bureaucracy. For reasons that I suspect have more to do with politics than with security, it wants its hand on the informational spigot. A gentle reminder to the generals and the Justice Department: We live in a free, democratic society.
What happened that night is history. Not only do we deserve the truth, we paid for it - by funding a pair of wars that inflated our national debt and burdened the federal budget. One of Owen's stated motivations was setting the record straight, after various distortions spouted by folks - from politicians to pundits to military spokespeople - who were not there that night.
Beyond that, the narrative gives us a tight look at the quick-strike special operations that will, in the coming years, increasingly shape the nature of our military engagements against amorphous foes with no standing army.
To my mind, Owen hasn't undermined his country. Instead, he extended his service to it.