Time Magazine Asks 10 Questions of Former Navy Seal Howard Wasdin

The operation was capture or kill. How do you know when to shoot?

It’s based on what the person is doing when we show up. In a capture mission, you’re putting yourself at more risk. You make that decision in a split second. Does he have a gun? Is he being compliant? The more you do it, the more adept you get at it.

So why did the team make the choice to kill Osama bin Laden?

The guys in the room made that decision. If you want to be in a position to make those types of decisions, go join the team. Otherwise, just say thank you.

Read it all.


Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Asia, Defense, National Security, Military, Health & Medicine, Iraq War, Pakistan, Psychology, Terrorism, War in Afghanistan

8 comments on “Time Magazine Asks 10 Questions of Former Navy Seal Howard Wasdin

  1. Cennydd13 says:

    Monday morning quarterbacking is fine for those who don’t have to go into combat……and this what those SEALS did, by the way……but when push comes to shove, I’ll put my money on the guys who have to do the job and let [b]them[/b] make the decision. [b]It can’t be done by anguishing over the decision, and deciding whether or not it’s right or wrong![/b]

  2. MichaelA says:

    I agree, its a great article. He succinctly explains why there is no reason to think that this operation wasn’t conducted in accordance with international law.

    Whoever runs publicity at the White House could learn a lot from this article – their handling of the press after the operation was pretty amateurish.

  3. francis says:

    And, Thank You!

  4. Mark Baddeley says:

    I agree with the basic thrust of:

    The guys in the room made that decision. If you want to be in a position to make those types of decisions, go join the team. Otherwise, just say thank you.

    and #1’s comment. I have no problem with the mission that shot Osama, or him being shot.

    But combat cannot be a moral-free zone, which is what those two comments seem to be suggesting. There are surely more options out there than “Monday morning quarterbacking” or “just rubber stamp whatever the guys in combat did”. If they’d shot a child in the operation – one who was nowhere near the combat – would we just say, “The guys in the field get to make the decision, you just say thank you”?

    The application is right in this instance, but the broader principle being stated is being overstated. As it stands, it runs the risk of being yet another instance of how the different experts and specialists and professionals in our society want to be self-regulating and free of democratic accountability.

    There are [i]reasons[/i] why this mission, and its decisions in combat, were no-brainers. They’ve been given. We don’t need to invoke an idea that combat requires people to not work out what is right or wrong, or that they shouldn’t ever have to account for their decision.

  5. David Keller says:

    #4-In 21 years of military service I never knew anyone who committed an illegal act, gave an illegal order or obeyed an illegal order. It happens, but rarely. When it does it is usually from a lack of training (ie Lt. Calley) or just because there are a certin number of people who are just crazy and the system can’t filter them all out.

  6. Mark Baddeley says:

    #5 That is pretty much what I expected to be the case, I’m glad that was your experience.

    I wasn’t trying to sneak in some anti-military comment. My point is that we don’t get what you experienced by just saying ‘it can’t be done by deciding whether or not its right or wrong’ or saying ‘its solely the purview on the guys on the spot’. Training in what is a legal and illegal act, and accountability to the chain of command for the legality of one’s decisions are surely necessary conditions.

    I have little interest in the fad of civilians second-guessing the military constantly, especially when it is done from the safety and comfort of a water-cooler conversation or the like.

    I think you and I are on the same page on this issue.

  7. MichaelA says:


    I respectfully think you are reading meanings into the article that just are not there.

    There is no hint that the author considers combat a “moral free zone”. Rather, he is making the point that morals apply and the SEALS complied with them.

    The second question asked by the journalist was a dumb one, because the author of the article couldn’t answer it – he wasn’t there. Thus his reply is not saying “don’t question”, but rather it is saying, “Firstly, I can’t tell you because I wasn’t there; secondly, even the guy who was there might have to take several pages to tell you why because he was processing so much information about risk and threat levels at the same time. But thirdly, you can be confident that he acted in accordance with his training, and did everything morally and lawfully”.

    I agree with you that “democractic accountability” applied in this instance (or rule of law, or however you want to express it). This was an “armed conflict” situation (international law generally does not distinguish between whether or not war has been declared, despite much popular misconception). To all intents and purposes it was war. These men were going into combat – they would have taken prisoners if the opportunity arose, they would have spared civilians where possible, but they don’t have to do any of those things to the point where their own lives are endangered. Bin Laden had weapons within reach, and in any case the SEALS were not required to satisfy themselves that he did not have a weapon ready. If there was any risk, they were entitled to shoot him. Similarly for the civilians – there are reports that one of his wives sustained a leg wound in attempting to protect him, and that does not provide any case for the SEALS to answer.

  8. Mark Baddeley says:


    It’s possible that the quote has your meaning, but it’s hardly the only likely possibility. If what you said is what he meant, then I think it was one of the (few) places in the interview where he was clumsy with his words. Cennyd13’s (at #1) extrapolation from his words clearly go in a different direction than you have, and I don’t think he’s made an interpretive error.

    Wasdin didn’t say, “It’d take to long to explain the reasons, and I wasn’t there anywhere so I don’t know.” He said, “If you want to be the decision maker join the team. If you aren’t part of the team just say ‘thank you’.” I think that more naturally heads towards saying – if you aren’t making the decision your *only* response should be to be thankful for the guys who did make it.

    I don’t think you’ve made an interpretive error either, I agree he could have meant what you’ve said. My response wasn’t just to his words, but his words in the context of the first comment in the thread.