FACT CHECK: Is Robert J. O’Neill The Navy SEAL Who Killed Osama Bin Laden?

Christine Sellers | Fact Check Reporter

Multiple media outlets reported that Robert J. O’Neill’s was the Navy SEAL who shot and killed terrorist Osama bin Laden.

Verdict: Unsubstantiated

A November 2014 piece from CNN casts doubt on whether O’Neill actually killed bin Laden. A second Navy SEAL has also claimed another SEAL killed bin Laden.

Fact Check:

O’Neill was arrested on Aug. 27 in Frisco, Texas, where he faces misdemeanor charges of assault causing bodily harm and public intoxication, according to The Dallas Morning News. O’Neill, a Tennessee resident who’d supposedly visited Texas to record a podcast, was released on $3,500 bond “hours later,” the outlet reported.

O’Neill’s Wikipedia page names him as the Navy SEAL who claims to have killed bin Laden. According to the same page, O’Neill’s name was leaked in 2014 by other Special Forces personnel ahead of Fox News and Washington Post stories highlighting who killed bin Laden.

The claim has been disputed. In 2014, the USA Today reported that the Daily Mail, the Washington Post, and Special Operations blog SOFrep.com all identified O’Neill as the Navy SEAL who had shot and killed bin Laden. Two SEAL team members reportedly confirmed O’Neill’s identity to The Washington Post, according to the outlet.

Likewise, Military.com referred to O’Neill as the Navy SEAL who claimed to have shot bin Laden in an article highlighting Operation Neptune Spear, the raid that resulted in the Al Qaeda leader’s death. According to the outlet, both O’Neill and fellow Navy SEAL Matt Bissonnette claimed to have fired shots at bin Laden, with the latter describing the raid in his book, “No Easy Day.” Bisonnette also claimed that another SEAL had killed bin Laden, according to BBC News.

O’Neill also recounted the raid in his memoir, “The Operator: Firing the Shots that Killed Osama bin Laden and My Years as a SEAL Team Warrior.” Additionally, he discussed the incident at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum on the fourth anniversary of bin Laden’s death. (RELATED: Vivek Ramaswamy Claims The Atlantic Misquoted Him About Federal Agents And 9/11)

According to a blog post from the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, O’Neill said the following:

“A foot and a half in front of me was Osama bin Laden. And I shot him twice, and then once more. And it didn’t really sink in; the wife sort of came at me and there was like, two-year-old kid there. So I pulled her over to the bed and grabbed the kid. And I remember thinking to grab the kid because he had nothing to do with this. I don’t want him to be afraid. So I picked him up, put him with the wife. I turned around, other SEALs were coming in the room, and I kind of stopped there and looked at them. … [One of the SEALs] was looking at me, and said ‘Are you OK?’ I said ‘What do we do now?’ And he laughed and put his hand on my shoulder, and he said, ‘Now we go find the computers.'”

Admiral Bill McRaven, the former commander of U.S. Special Operations Command and who oversaw the Bin Laden raid, told CNN’s Jake Tapper in October 2020 that O’Neill was the “SEAL who in fact shot Bin Laden.”

Although O’Neill publicly claimed he was responsible for killing bin Laden, CNN’s national security analyst Peter Bergen cast doubt that O’Neill had actually killed the terrorist in a November 2014 piece he’d written for the outlet. Bergen interviewed the SEAL Team 6 operator who participated in the mission, who said the “point man” ran up the stairs to the top floor of bin Laden’s compound and shot the terrorist in the head when he appeared to poke his head out of his bedroom door.

The “point man,” “the Shooter” (a term coined by Esquire during an anonymous interview with the O’Neill), and Bissonette were supposedly the first three SEALs to reach the top floor of the compound, Bissonette claimed in his memoir, according to Bergen. The SEAL Team 6 operator who spoke with Bergen also denied “the Shooter’s” version of events published in Esquire as “complete BS,” Bergen said.

“Two different people telling two different stories for two different reasons,” Bissonnette told NBC News in 2014. “Whatever he says, he says. I don’t want to touch that.”

Check Your Fact has contacted O’Neill, the U.S. Department of Defense, and former Defense Secretaries Mark Esper and Gen. James Mattis for comment. This piece will be updated accordingly if one is received.

Christine Sellers

Fact Check Reporter