The Shooter,” today’s story about the Navy SEAL who says he killed Osama bin Laden, was published in cooperation with Esquire. It is part of the Center for Investigative Reporting’s ongoing coverage of the challenges veterans face after leaving military service.

Phil Bronstein, CIR’s executive chairman and a longtime journalist, met the Shooter more than a year ago. Over the course of the last year, they have had a series of interviews and, recently, the Shooter agreed that his powerful story could be told, but his identity could not be revealed.

We agreed to protect his identity because of the inherent risks to the Shooter and his family if he were to be named. We realize that by publishing this story, his identity may be revealed, but our agreement with him is that we will take no part in that unless he chooses to come forward.

CIR has a strict policy against using anonymous sources – unless the information is deemed to have overwhelming news value and it is determined that the information cannot be told any other way. We believe the Shooter’s story met the test of newsworthiness, even though we could not persuade other sources with firsthand knowledge to corroborate his retelling of the story. This is his story and his story alone.

After conducting interviews with the Shooter and other military personnel who were familiar with the events surrounding the raid, Bronstein became convinced that the Shooter had the most definitive account of those crucial few seconds when bin Laden was killed.

The Shooter’s version of events is not the only one. In the book “No Easy Day,” a member of Navy SEAL Team 6, since identified in published reports as Matt Bissonnette, wrote that another unnamed SEAL fired the fatal shots – although Bissonnette acknowledges that he did not witness the actual shooting. The book was written under the pen name Mark Owen. 

There is a broader story here. Many of the issues the Shooter has faced upon re-entry into the civilian world, while exceptional because of his membership in SEAL Team 6, are similar to those many veterans face when leaving the service.

While we cannot use his name, we can tell his story – through words and video – to reach those who need to hear it.

Less than 1 percent of Americans are active in the military, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center. Volunteers make up our armed forces fighting our wars abroad. Their service time, and especially their involvement in combat, does not simply dissipate into vague memory when they are physically removed from that danger. The aftermath of war stays with them.  

At CIR, we believe that telling the stories of veterans and exposing problems they face when they come home is important and relevant to all of us as Americans. There are solutions, but if the problems veterans face lie hidden, removed from our national dialogue, they will never be solved.

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Robert J. Rosenthal

Robert J. Rosenthal is the chief executive officer at The Center for Investigative Reporting. Rosenthal was the executive director of CIR from January 2008 to spring 2017. When he joined CIR, it had a staff of seven and when he left, it had a staff of nearly 70 and was recognized as one of the leading nonprofit newsrooms in the country. He is an award-winning journalist and worked for some of the most respected newspapers in the country, including The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Philadelphia Inquirer and the San Francisco Chronicle. Rosenthal worked for 22 years at The Inquirer, starting as a reporter and eventually becoming its executive editor in 1998. He became managing editor of the San Francisco Chronicle in late 2002 and left in 2007. During this time, he led the investigation into the murder of journalist Chauncey Bailey. That work became known as the award-winning Chauncey Bailey Project. Before joining The Inquirer in 1979, Rosenthal worked for six years as a reporter at The Boston Globe and three and a half years at The New York Times, where he was a news assistant on the foreign desk and an editorial assistant on the Pulitzer Prize-winning Pentagon Papers project. As a reporter, Rosenthal won numerous awards, including the Overseas Press Club Award for magazine writing, the Society of Professional Journalists’ Sigma Delta Chi Award for distinguished foreign correspondence and the National Association of Black Journalists Award for Third World reporting. He was a Pulitzer finalist in international reporting and was a Pulitzer judge four times. He has been an adjunct professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. Rosenthal is also currently advising or on the board of multiple journalism nonprofits. In 2018, Rosenthal was named a fellow of the Society of Professional Journalists for his “extraordinary contribution to the profession of journalism.”