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Case of Navy SEAL Who Turned Over Photo of bin Laden Suggests SEAL Team Six Operates Above the Law

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We speak with national security reporter for The Intercept, Matthew Cole, about his revelation that Matthew Bissonnette, a former Navy SEAL who shot Osama bin Laden and wrote a best-selling book about the raid, went on to turn over a photo of bin Laden’s body and is now the subject of a federal criminal investigation into whether he used his position as an elite commando for personal profit while on active duty. The government has fought to keep pictures of bin Laden’s body from being made public for what it claims are national security reasons.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. Our guests for the hour are two journalists with The Intercept, Jeremy Scahill, formally with Democracy Now!, and Matthew Cole, formerly with the NBC investigations unit. They have an explosive new piece, “Erik Prince in the Hot Seat: Blackwater’s Founder is Under Investigation for Money Laundering, Ties to Chinese Intel, and Brokering Mercenary Services.” But now I want to ask you, Matthew Cole, about your piece, “Navy SEAL Turns Over Picture of Bin Laden’s Body, Faces Investigation of Business Ties.”

MATTHEW COLE: Yeah, so, a story we did a few months ago about Matthew Bissonnette, who was a member of SEAL Team Six and part of the team that killed Osama bin Laden. And he wrote the book No Easy Day about his experiences on that raid. And it was a story about his—really, about his business ties and an investigation that the Navy Criminal Investigative Service, the NCIS, and the Department of Justice had opened up into what originally was about his book and whether or not there were leaks, but had expanded.

And in the course of the investigation, the first thing that they discovered was—or they had come to learn that he had an unauthorized picture of bin Laden’s corpse. And for your viewers, if you remember, that after the bin Laden raid, the government made a very big deal about saying that they had retrieved all of the images from the raid and destroyed them or put the ones that needed to be properly stored away, that they were highly classified and were a threat to national security should they ever be shown or exposed. And so, the idea that a member of the raid, two-and-a-half, three-and-a-half, four-and-a-half years after the raid, was still in possession of a photo of a deceased Osama bin Laden was very, very disturbing for the government. And in the course of their investigation, they made a proffer to Mr. Bissonnette, which was that they would not prosecute him for having a classified image illegally on his computer in exchange for information about his business dealings while he was a member of the Navy SEALs.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to just a clip of Matthew Bissonnette appearing on 60 Minutes in 2014, downplaying the importance of writing the book, No Easy Day.

MATTHEW BISSONNETTE: How many former secretaries of defense have written books? How many former generals have written books? I’m a nobody, right? I’m a senior enlisted guy that did 13 straight deployments, nothing else.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Matthew Bissonnette on 60 Minutes. Matthew?

MATTHEW COLE: Yeah, Mr. Bissonnette has certainly downplayed his significance consistently, all the while collecting checks for the books that he’s written about his experiences as a Navy SEAL. The—

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: But there was also this issue that he was actually involved in business dealings while he was a Navy SEAL with the people supplying the Navy SEALs.

MATTHEW COLE: Yeah, I think what the story really is getting at, and the real issue that I think there will be more in the future, is that there were some real problems at SEAL Team Six and at the command. And one of the things that the Bissonnette investigation starts to scratch at is that they had a different set of rules for members of SEAL Team Six than they would for other parts of the military. These guys were celebrities. They were the pro athletes of the military, certainly of the Navy. And they got away with a lot of things that no one else gets away with.

And here was someone who was being accused, essentially, of being an active-duty SEAL and having business—a separate business that had contracts with a company that provided materiel and equipment to SEAL Team Six. So you had a natural question of conflict of interest. And that’s what the Navy and Department of Justice have sought to try to answer. Now, the Department of Justice has declined charges or has closed their case into Mr. Bissonnette, but the Navy still continues to open—to continue its investigation into him.

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