Mrs. Kay Griggs on How the Government Works

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Re: Mrs. Kay Griggs on How the Government Works

Postby admin » Wed Jan 10, 2018 4:09 am

Little-known cemeteries accepting new burials for state's veterans
by Christopher Baxter
The Virginian-Pilot
Aug 25, 2007

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Phil Holwager, a retired Navy chaplain, visits the Albert G. Horton Jr. Memorial Veterans Cemetery in Suffolk, where he will be buried. (Steve Earley photos | The Virginian-Pilot )

Phil Holwager walked slowly along the orderly rows of headstones at the state veterans cemetery in Suffolk, satisfied with his decision to someday lie here.

The former Navy chaplain saw many military burial grounds during his 36 years of service, but found the freshly cut grass and young cherry trees of Albert G. Horton Jr. Memorial Veterans Cemetery to be the best match.

1972
LCdr P.J. Holwager, DC, Sep 72, Task Force Delta
-- Chaplains With Marines in Vietnam, 1962-1971


"I was here for Memorial Day, and I was very impressed with the dignity and honor expressed here," said Holwager, 74, who lives in Suffolk with his wife. "I could have picked Arlington, but probably my family would never make it back up there after I was buried."

Holwager is among an estimated 737,000 veterans in Virginia - about a quarter of whom live in Hampton Roads - entitled to interment at a state or national cemetery.

But of the 16 national sites in Virginia, including Arlington National Cemetery, only three are accepting new burials, said Dan Kemano, director of cemeteries for the Virginia Department of Veterans Services.

State officials have addressed that shortage by opening two state veterans cemeteries - the Suffolk site and another in Amelia - each with enough room for the next 80 years. But many don't know those sites exist.

More than 500 veterans were interred at the Suffolk site last year, Kemano said, comparable to any cemetery in the region. "But if you look at the size of the veteran population, we should be doing much more than that," he said.

Most veteran deaths have been from the fading 2.9 million-World War II generation, according to government estimates. A 20-year-old who served in 1945 would be 82 today.

State and national officials also are preparing for the influx of 7.3 million Vietnam War veterans near or past retirement age. They represent a "huge potential" for interments, Kemano said.

They are less likely to have pre-purchased burial sites, common among World War II veterans who were heavily solicited by commercial cemeteries, said Kemano, who worked for 10 years in the private sector.

"In the '70s, '80s and '90s, there was a lot of telemarketing," he said. "Private cemeteries had salespeople that went out and sold plots. It was an honest venture, but without it our volume would probably be much greater today."

Virginia veterans who did not pre-buy plots now have the option of being buried at the cemeteries in Suffolk, opened in 2004, and Amelia, which opened in 1997.

The sites are often closer to residents than the few open national cemeteries, making them more convenient for family members, Kemano said.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs established the State Cemetery Grants Program in 1978 to serve veterans communities that were too small to require a national cemetery, but lived beyond an hour of a site.

"The national standard is you service an area generally in a 75-mile radius around a location," Kemano said. "About 90 percent of our veterans come from within 50 to 60 miles of a site."

Besides Suffolk and Amelia, a third state facility will open in 2010 in Dublin. And researchers at the University of Virginia have been commissioned by the state to study future needs, specifically in Northern Virginia.

Culpeper National Cemetery will fill in 15 to 20 years, Kemano said, leaving many veterans in that area outside the 75-mile range.

Researchers will consider many factors before releasing their report in the fall, said John L. Knapp, senior economist with the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service at the University of Virginia.

One factor is anticipating future needs for space. For example, a traditional casket burial takes up a 4-by-10 space at the Suffolk cemetery, while an in-ground cremation burial requires 4 feet by 4 feet.

About two-thirds of veterans preferred a casket burial. About one-third wanted cremation, according to the 2001 National Survey of Veterans, and of those, most planned to have their ashes scattered, not buried.

Knapp said he also will consider other burial options for veterans, such as church-run cemeteries, which may already hold family members.

Increasing awareness of existing facilities, however, is the goal, said Anne Atkins, a spokeswoman for Virginia's veterans services.

"You've got thousands and thousands of Vietnam veterans, and they have no idea they or their spouse are eligible for burial in a veterans cemetery," she said.

The department had planned paid advertising in the Suffolk and Amelia areas, Atkins said, but funding may fall short. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine wants to cut state spending to balance the budget. In that case, the department must rely on word-of-mouth.

That's how Holwager heard of the Suffolk cemetery four years ago. He's one of the most recent Vietnam-era veterans to submit a pre-application for burial.

"I tend to put things off, but I finally got around to it," he said. "To be honest, it's a relief."

Christopher Baxter, (757) 446-2405, christopher.baxter@pilotonline.com
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Re: Mrs. Kay Griggs on How the Government Works

Postby admin » Wed Jan 10, 2018 4:17 am

Virginia Guard Military Funeral Honors Program honors veterans
by Master Sgt. A.J. Coyne
May 1, 2012

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SUFFOLK, Va. — Soldiers from the Virginia Army National Guard Military Funeral Honors Program were on hand to pay proper respects to the remains of seven military veterans April 30, 2012 at the Albert G. Horton Jr. Memorial Veterans Cemetery in Suffolk. The veterans were buried with full military honors in a ceremony attended by family members, fellow veterans and members of the local community.

“Today we find ourselves writing the final chapter of their lives,” said Phil Holwager, a retired Navy chaplain who spoke during the service. “We are here as fellow Americans putting the unburied remains of heroes back in their proper place. We have come together to show care and concern and it is our responsibility to lay to rest their remains”

The Virginia Army National Guard Military Funeral Honors Program performs funerals at cemeteries throughout the state after receiving requests from funeral homes and various Casualty Assistant Centers at Army installations.

It is currently averaging more than 200 funerals a month and its members have performed more than 2,000 ceremonies this fiscal year, according to Bob Huffman, coordinator of the Military Funeral Honors Program and retired state command sergeant major of the Virginia National Guard.

The Guard Military Funeral Honors Program provided its first military funeral honors service in January 2007. At that time there were only two teams performing funerals, and team members from Gate City and Fort Pickett performed 157 funerals in the fiscal year.

In 2008, the program expanded and performed 433 funerals. The program established new regional offices in Suffolk, Fort A. P. Hill and Petersburg in 2009 and expanded even more by performing 1,263 funerals.

There are now more than 90 Soldiers who serve in the program, both full time and part time, according to Huffman. All members must meet Army height and weight standards and must have passed the Army Physical Fitness Test. New members are then trained by certified instructors who have been to the Military Funeral Honors Course at the National Guard Professional Education Center in Little Rock, Ark.

Huffman said the program needs more traditional Soldiers in order to keep pace with the increase in honors request. To inquire about joining the program you can contact Huffman at 434-292-9051 or by email at bob.huffman@us.army.mil.

To view photos from this event, visit:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/vaguardpao ... 570087922/

Additional reporting by Cotton Puryear, Department of Military Affairs
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Re: Mrs. Kay Griggs on How the Government Works

Postby admin » Wed Jan 10, 2018 5:06 am

Former U.S. Marine Gets Life in Prison for Okinawa Rape and Murder
by Motoko Rich
December 1, 2017

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An American resident of the Japanese island of Okinawa prayed last year at the site where Rina Shimabukuro’s body was found. Credit Adam Dean for The New York Times

TOKYO — A court on the Japanese island of Okinawa sentenced a former United States Marine to life in prison on Friday after convicting him of the rape and murder of a 20-year-old Japanese woman.

The former Marine, Kenneth Franklin Shinzato, 33, confessed to raping Rina Shimabukuro and abandoning her body in Uruma, an Okinawa village, in April of last year, Kyodo News reported.

At the time of the killing, Mr. Shinzato, who served in the Marines from 2007 to 2014, was a civilian working for a contract company on Kadena Air Base, an American military installation on Okinawa. He denied an intent to murder.

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Kenneth Franklin Shinzato admitted that he raped Ms. Shimabukuro but said he hadn’t meant to kill her. The case drew an outraged protest from the Japanese government. Credit Ryosuke Ozawa/Kyodo News, via Associated Press

The case stoked extreme anger on Okinawa, where about 47,000 American troops are stationed. It also drew an outraged protest from the Japanese government. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe raised the case in an uncharacteristically public display of anger during then-President Barack Obama’s trip to Japan last May for a Group of 7 summit meeting and a visit to Hiroshima.

According to the indictment in Naha District Court, Mr. Shinzato stabbed Ms. Shimabukuro in the neck with a knife and hit her on the head with a bar to subdue her before raping her. The attack killed her.

Ms. Shimabukuro’s body was found three weeks later in woods near Onna, a village north of Uruma, where Mr. Shinzato had dumped her.

Crimes committed by American service members or other personnel on Okinawa have long been a source of tension between the United States and Japan. Last month, a Japanese driver was killed in a collision with a military truck driven by a Marine stationed in Naha.
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Re: Mrs. Kay Griggs on How the Government Works

Postby admin » Wed Jan 10, 2018 5:09 am

Sailors plead guilty in rape case that sparked Japan curfew
by Travis J. Tritten and Chiyomi Sumida
Stars and Stripes
February 25, 2013

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Before I get into that, I want to talk a little bit about the subculture of the Marine Corps, how when you enter into the Marine Corps, and I think this goes without saying for all the other services, that you're not a man until you've taken advantage of a woman. You're not a man until you've sexually abused to some point. And what happens is these young, impressionable kids enter into the Marine Corps, 18 and 19-year-old kids, and the only people they learn from are the people around them and their platoon sergeants, or whoever. And they see everyone doing it, and so they themselves have to do it too, because they want to fit in, they don't want to be ostracized and whatnot.

-- Testimony of Rafay Siddiqui on Gender and Sexuality, Winter Soldier, by Iraq Veterans Against the War


CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Two U.S. sailors pleaded guilty Tuesday to raping and robbing an Okinawan woman in October, a case that led the military to impose a Japan-wide curfew for all American servicemembers.

Seaman Christopher Browning, 24, and Petty Officer 3rd Class Skyler Dozierwalker, 23, were accused of carrying the woman to an apartment building parking lot and raping her for nearly an hour. Browning was also charged with stealing 7,000 yen (about $87) from her bag.

The guilty pleas came at the start of the sailors’ trial in a Japanese court. Prosecutors are expected to propose sentences on Wednesday, and the court will issue the final verdicts and sentences on Friday.

The case outraged Okinawans, many who have harbored ill feelings toward the U.S. military since a 1995 incident in which three servicemembers abducted and raped a 12-year-old Okinawan girl.

The victim in the case was walking home from work early on the morning of Oct. 16 near Kadena Air Base, according to details presented by the prosecution at the trial Tuesday. Dozierwalker asked Browning if he wanted to rape the woman and Browning said he did.

The sailors spoke to the woman in broken Japanese, but she ignored them, prosecutors said. They followed her to her apartment door and grabbed her from behind. One sailor covered her mouth; the other grabbed her by the legs. They then took her to the parking lot where they repeatedly choked and raped her.

Afterward, Dozierwalker and Browning went to a bar and bought alcohol with the money stolen from the woman’s bag, according to prosecutors.

The entire 50-minute assault was captured on security cameras and was shown to the Japanese jury Tuesday.

“The pain in my neck and throat will go away some day, but the pain, humiliation and despair that I experienced will never go away,” according to a written statement by the victim read to the court. “I know it will stay with me and continue to haunt me. I will never forgive them.”


The woman was not present at the trial, and Japanese authorities have shielded her identity.

Police apprehended Browning and Dozierwalker at a nearby hotel later that morning. The two sailors, assigned to Naval Air Station Fort Worth, Texas, were scheduled to return to the United States the day of the incident.

During the trial, each of the sailors claimed they had only followed the other and denied instigating the attack.

Off-base incidents involving servicemembers have recently complicated relations with the Okinawans that already were strained. Crime, particularly rape, remains a top reason why many have demanded reductions in the large U.S. military presence on the island, where most American troops in Japan are based.

Following the incident, U.S. commanders in Japan imposed an 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew that recently was relaxed by an hour. Further alcohol-fueled off-base misbehavior sparked restrictions on drinking.

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Re: Mrs. Kay Griggs on How the Government Works

Postby admin » Wed Jan 10, 2018 5:24 am

Inslaw Update
by Virginia McCullough
Google Groups
8/30/99

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I must add some comments to MC's response to my posting. The list of names that I suggest Al Fayed investigate will, in my opinion, lead back to a single group of people who have been getting away with murder (and I mean that literally) for years.

Shortly after the murder of reporter Jos. "Danny" Casolaro in the fall of 1991, I was encouraged to phone into The Dave Emory talk show broadcast out of Foothill College in Los Altos. The show was already in progress and the subject was the murder of my friend and associate, Danny Casolaro. Emory, working for the non-profit KFJC, later sold the tape of this and subsequent shows as a package called "For Whom the Bell Tolls". Danny and I had been sharing information on a number of subjects among them the following:

(1) CIA contract officer Michael Riconosciuto who, following his revelations about the DOJ's theft of Inslaw's PROMIS[E] software, was sitting in jail on a questionable drug charge. Currently he sits in a Florida prison following his conviction. After his conviction one of his attorneys, John Crawford, died a very mysterious death and all of Michael's files housed in Crawford's home/office disappeared. A source told me that he/she had proof of the murder and the home invasion. A woman named Vali Delahanty, a girlfriend of Riconosciuto's long time confidant and front man - John Munson - was murdered and her body and that of Atty Crawford showed up at the same mortuary the same day. Relatives of both families expressed great fear to the mortician stating that their loved ones had been killed because of what they knew about the dealings of Michael and Marshall Riconosciuto, long time business associates in Pyrotronics (aka Red Devil [safe and sane] Fireworks). In 1983 Moriarty was jailed having been convicted of laundering money and supplying prostitutes to California's elected officials in California's biggest political scandal of the century. He spent 2-1/2 years in a luxury crowbar hotel and was out and supporting Michael's wife, Bobbi and their children in a beautiful hotel he owned in Southern California during 1992/1993. Moriarty was a close friend of Richard Nixon and helped arrange Nixon's first trip to China through his fireworks connections. Moriarty also accompanied the President to China as an honored guest.  

The list of murders connected to the Riconosciutos is as long as one's arm and longer. Their credentials go back to one of the key witnesses before the Garrison grand jury, Fred Lee Crisman aka Jon Gold. Under the name Gold Crisman called "Murder of a City - Tacoma" - a must read for any student of assassinations and UFOs.

(2) In the spring of 1991 Rayealan Russbacher suddenly appeared in my life. A strange woman named Rita Hill later contacted me and wanted my husband and me to attend a speech that a church was sponsoring in San Jose. Hill told me that Dave Emory, author and acquaintance Rodney Stich and others would be attending. I thought better of it but Hill later brought over pictures of the cozy little group with Emory pictured next to Hill. For the remainder of 1992 Rayealan Russbacher kept calling me and sending me all kinds of material about her alleged pilot husband, Gunther. One of her greatest male supporters invited us down to the Monterey area for another of Rayealan's talks. We declined. Later this individual wired up his house as booby trapped bomb and invited the cops over meeting them at the door with shotguns blazing. He was jailed continuing to ramble about underground bases, Bush and "CIA pilot" Gunther Russbacher.

(3) The author of "Unfriendly Skies", Rodney Stich, and I had met in our mutual fight against the corrupt bankruptcy system that operates in California. That fight resulted in the jailing of crooked bankruptcy trustee Charles Duck and the murder of bankruptcy attorneys, Dexter Jacobson and Gary Ray Pinell in 1991. In 1990 Rodney Stich, in poor health and about 70 yrs old, was jailed as a "vexatious litigant" in an attempt to shut him up. Eventually he was moved to Camp Parks FCI in Dublin, California. Lo and behold, enter fellow prisoner Gunther Russbacher. The two men became soul mates based upon their mutual interest in flying. Assuming one believes Gunther is a pilot. Gunther would tell Stich that he controlled companies supplying arms to those involved with the Hausenfraus fiasco. Eventually Stich was released from jail.

On 4/30/91, Russbacher called Stich at his home from jail at Terminal Island. Gunther was upset and talked about his role in the October Surprise. On May 1, 1991, a helicopter crash at Fort Ord was reported in the Monterey Herald. Russbacher called Stich and asked that Stich record the conversation. Gunther said that he was supposed to be on that flight and die but a friendly Navy officer had visited him in jail and drugged Gunther's coffee to prevent him being placed on the copter.

Now Rayealan Russbacher contacts Rodney and weaves her unusual love tale. She says that she met her second husband at the (Monterey) Naval Postgraduate School. When I last talked to Barbara Honegger she was also working there. Rayealan stated that her late husband, John Dyer, was the Dean of Science and Engineering at this same school. Rayealan's love tale read like a cheap dime store novel that can only be read, without laughing, by young girls under the age of 14. Stich asked me for help in publicizing the Russbacher fable and I declined. However, I did put him in touch with Dave Emory and Harry Martin of the Napa Sentinel.

Without the support of Stich/Martin/Emory the Russbachers would have remained relatively unknown. The interesting hype is that the Riconosciuto story was effectively buried in an avalanche of Russbacher publicity. The Russbachers continually implied that Riconosciuto was just a minor CIA operative of little importance who did not know how to keep his mouth shut. All the while the Russbachers were singing like birds. I now believe that THEIR job was to discredit Riconosciuto so that his story about the Cabazon/Wackenhut joint venture and Inslaw would not be believed.  

When Stich was writing another book he FAXed me the phony CIA documents dealing with Russbacher that later appeared in his book (another version of "Unfriendly Skies"). I looked at them and could not believe that Stich would consider them to be valid. Several important names were misspelled; it was obvious that they had been created by a bad cut and paste job; (and) the english was atrocious. I called Rodney and told him that they were phony. In addition, I FAXed him a phony document that had been mailed to me accusing the government of prosecuting Gunther and stating that both he and Riconosciuto were innocent, long-term CIA operatives. This letter had also been mailed to Emory and Martin. It appeared to be written on DIA letterhead signed with the last name "Zafonte". Like Stich's documents, this document had serious errors. Edwin Meese was called Edward Meese; the english was bad and there were many misspellings. I located Zafonte in Virginia and spoke with him about the letter. He denied any knowledge of either Russbacher or Riconosciuto and very emphatically denied writing it. Furthermore, he told me that he had retired from DIA four years ago.

Stich has told me that he believes that he was going to be sent back to jail on further contempt charges and he thinks that the only thing that keeps him out of jail is a declaration Gunther Russbacher introduced on his behalf. It is my belief that the government has simply lost interest and does not consider Stich a threat but an asset who can be well used as an unwitting disinformation agent. Rodney's most recent book "Drugging America" was recently released.  

In February of 1992 Rayealan suddenly contacted me saying she was terrified because Ross Perot was sending a plane to San Jose to pick her up so that she could visit Gunther in his prison in St. Charles, Mo. Perot was also sending two of his men to the prison to verify the fact that Gunther could really fly an SR-7l. She asked me to drive to Santa Cruz and copy all of the material she had on Gunther and his notes and documents so that someone else would have a copy in case something happened to her "like happened tp Danny Casolaro". She also asked me to phone the hotel that Ross Perot had booked her into and ask them for extra security for her and to explain to them what had happened to Danny Casolaro. I did both of these things and shortly after I had called the hotel my phone rang. At the other end of the line was a man with a slight southern accent ranting and raving about "this is my show" "you are not going to rain on my parade" "this small hotel is now terrified", "how dare you", "who do you think you are?" This tirade went on for fully ten minutes before I responded by saying, "I know this is your dime, but it is my time. Who are you?" Only then did the voice calm down a little and I learned that I had been called by soon-to-be presidential candidate Ross Perot. In the future I would look back on this as just one more set up by the Russbachers.

(4) About October of 1992 I was contacted by Paul Wilcher who, on the eve of the senate hearings to confirm Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, wrote a masterful 7-page letter detailing Thomas' conflict of interest with his mentor and promoter, Senator Daniforth.

Unfortunately Wilcher became obsessed with the Russbacher story, traveling to Russbachers prison in St. Charles, Missouri to record 55 tape recordings with Russbacher. Russbachers identified Wilcher as Gunther's constitutional attorney. Rayealan ordered Wilcher to give all his tapes to Rodney Stich and told me that she thought Wilcher was not to be trusted because he was losing his mind. In my conversations with Wilcher his total personality changed from a focused, bright person to one continually rambling about Russbachers and conspiracies. Wilcher sent the tapes to Stich and on May 21, 1993 he wrote a 101-page letter to Janet Reno. The Thomas letter is concise and cloaked in legalese. The Reno letter is rambling and full of accusations that are not supported either by the law or by documentation. An odd informant named Michael Fuller predicted to Washington D.C. correspondent Sarah McClendon the day that Wilcher would die and die on that date he did. Fuller also claimed to me that he knew Danny Casolaro although no documentation supported his allegation.

Russbacher and Riconosciuto also shared a Chicago based, Christian, far-right attorney named James Vassilos who had close ties to The Liberty Lobby and Sherman Skolnick's Committee up the Court, it was Vassilos who filed Riconosciuto's lawsuit against Judge Bua involving the Inslaw case. All of the material held by Congressman Jack Brooks for the Riconosciutos was returned to Vassilos and signed for by him on September 19, 1992 according to a letter from the Congressman to Bobbi Riconosciuto dated 2/17/93. Shortly thereafter Vassilos was arrested while traveling with Rayealan Russbacher and then later disbarred by the state of Illinois.

In July of 1993 Rayealan Russbacher appealed to the Patriot network saying that she was turning the 350-page report that the late Wilcher wrote on Gunther's involvement in the October Surprise to the people at Contact (part of the Patriot network). There are references to audio and video tapes already pre-paid that will be mailed out when they are completed. In early September 1993, Harry Martin FAXed a one-page letter to the American Patriot Network accusing Gunther of skimming $15 million off the top of a CIA proprietary company. Martin also identifies "The Napa Sentinel" as the "creator" of Gunther. Martin also goes on to identify an Air Force Colonel as the real pilot involved in the October Surprise. By so doing, Martin calls the man he created a liar and implies all of the Rae Allen writings are also false. Rae Allen responded by calling Martin's criticism of the missing $15 million "a small bone". On 12/17/93 "The Napa Sentinel" published an a article heralding Russbacher's release from prison with not a word about Martin's earlier criticism of Russbacher's story. Stich shortly thereafter FAXed me several stories that appeared in Patriot-type newsletters urging people to stop contributing to the Russbacher's because they are now considered frauds. Stich tells me that Gunther was supposedly jailed in Austria convicted of tearing up a hotel room while drunk and disorderly. Rayealan was allegedly back in Soquel where she told she planned to get a job at a minimum wage.

(5) AND ALL TRAILS LEAD BACK TO THE CABAZON RESERVATION where the documents were first released by Cabazon Indian Fred Alvarez. As he dug into the files of "Dr." John Philip Nichols, a long time CIA agent, and liberated hundreds of sensitive documents he told the reporters, "You are talking to a dead man". Weeks later in June of 1981, shortly after Ronald Reagan was elected President, Fred Alavarez and two friends were tortured and murdered in the backyard of his home on Bob Hope Drive near Indio, California. Fred had in his possession a letter dated in October 1980 from Presidential candidate Ronald Reagan thanking him for writing about his concerns about what was happening on his reservation. Fred Alvarez had stumbled upon a mecca for gold for arms, for drugs, for biological weapons, for murder. He had found the original Iran Contra and asked the man who would implement it for help in eliminating it.

Most of the preceding material came from a letter I wrote dated 12/30/94 to a long time CIA operative who ran the CIA's bank, BBRD & W in Hawaii. His name is Ron Rewald and he was in jail in 1994 at San Pedro, CA. We had been corresponding for some time and he was interested in my analysis of Rodney Stich because he was talking to Stich about publishing a book. Rewald had written about his days in the CIA. The letter was 13 pages of detail plus attachments. It did not deter Rewald from agreeing that Stich publish his book entitled: "Disavow".

There is much more to this long tale but you are probably asking "What does this have to do with Al Fayed and the death of his son and the Princess?" In order: (1) a pattern of falsified classified documents, (2) the same old worn out players, (3) the set ups of other people to take the fall, (4) the protection of the real perpetrators behind walls of lies, (and) (5) the deliberate destruction of individuals who swim too close to Casolaro's Octopus.

ALL TRAILS LEAD BACK TO THE CABAZON RESERVATION!

Virginia McCullough vmccu...@hotmail.com
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Re: Mrs. Kay Griggs on How the Government Works

Postby admin » Wed Jan 10, 2018 7:09 am

Part 1 of 2

The Crimes of Seal Team 6
by Matthew Cole
January 10, 2017

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Officially known as the Naval Special Warfare Development Group, SEAL Team 6 is today the most celebrated of the U.S. military’s special mission units. But hidden behind the heroic narratives is a darker, more troubling story of “revenge ops,” unjustified killings, mutilations, and other atrocities — a pattern of criminal violence that emerged soon after the Afghan war began and was tolerated and covered up by the command’s leadership.

1. THE WEDDING PARTY MASSACRE

ON THE AFTERNOON of March 6, 2002, Lt. Cmdr. Vic Hyder and more than two dozen operators from SEAL Team 6 boarded two Chinook helicopters en route to eastern Afghanistan hoping that within hours, they would kill or capture Osama bin Laden.

Earlier that evening, general officers from the Joint Special Operations Command had scrambled the SEALs after watching a Predator drone video feed of a man they suspected was bin Laden set off in a convoy of three or four vehicles in the Shah-i-Kot Valley, where al Qaeda forces had fortified themselves. Although the video had revealed no weapons, and the generals had only tenuous intelligence that the convoy was al Qaeda — just suspicions based on the color of the man’s flowing white garb and the deference others showed him — they were nervous that bin Laden might get away again, as he had a few months earlier after the bombing of the Tora Bora mountains in December 2001. This was a crucial moment: Kill bin Laden now and the war could be over after only six months. The vehicles were headed east toward the Pakistani border, as if they were trying to escape. The mission was code-named Objective Bull.

Afghanistan’s Paktia province is about the size of New Hampshire, with 10,000-foot ridgelines and arid valleys with dried riverbeds below, nestled along the border with Pakistan’s tribal areas. The prominent mountain range often served as the last geographic refuge for retreating forces entering Pakistan. As the special operations helicopters approached the convoy from the north and west, Air Force jets dropped two bombs, halting the vehicles and killing several people instantly.

That was not how the SEALs wanted the mission to develop. Inside the helicopters, some of the operators had pushed to hold off any air attack, arguing that they had plenty of time to intercept the convoy before it reached the Pakistani border. “The reason SEAL Team 6 exists is to avoid bombs and collateral damage,” said a retired SEAL Team 6 member who was on the mission. “We said, ‘Let us set down and take a look at the convoy to determine if it’s al Qaeda.’ Instead, they dropped several bombs.”

The bombing stopped the convoy along a dry wadi, or ravine, with two of the trucks approximately a kilometer apart. Survivors began to flee the wreckage, and over the radio, Hyder and his team heard the order that the convoy was now in a “free fire zone,” allowing the Chinooks’ gunners to fire at anyone deemed a threat, regardless of whether they were armed. The SEALs had no authority over the helicopter gunners.

The two Chinooks landed separately, one near each end of the convoy. Both teams exited the helicopters to find a grim scene. The SEALs with Hyder came out and separated into two groups. One, led by an enlisted operator, took in the damage to one of the vehicles. Men, women, and a small girl, motionless and in the fetal position, appeared dead. Inside the vehicle were one or two rifles, as is customary in Afghanistan, but none of the men wore military clothing or had any extra ammunition. “These were family weapons,” said the retired SEAL.

The SEALs from the other helicopter immediately headed up a steep hill after landing to locate an armed man who had been shot from the helicopter. When they reached the hilltop, the operators looked down in disbelief at women and children, along with the man — all were dead or mortally wounded from the spray of gunfire from the Chinook’s gunners, who had unloaded after the free fire zone had been declared. They realized the man had been trying to protect the women and children.

Other SEALs on the ground proceeded as though the survivors were combatants. Hyder and an enlisted operator named Monty Heath had gone in a different direction and saw a survivor flee the bombed vehicle toward a nearby berm. Heath fired once, hitting the man, sending him tumbling down the back side of the small rise.

At that point, Hyder began assessing the damage and surveying the dead. “I was going around to the different KIAs with my camera to take photos,” Hyder told me in an interview, using the military term for enemies killed in action. “It was a mess.”

Hyder said that he and a few other SEALs began to bury the casualties near a ravine by piling rocks over them. As he did so, he approached the man Heath had shot. “He was partially alive, faced down, his back to me, and he rolled over. I shot him, finished him. He was dying, but he rolled over and I didn’t know whether he was armed or not. That was the end of that.” Hyder said that his single shot had blasted open the man’s head.

According to Hyder, the encounter ended there. But the retired SEAL who was on the mission tells a different story. According to this source, after shooting the man, who turned out to be unarmed, Hyder proceeded to mutilate his body by stomping in his already damaged skull. When Heath, who witnessed Hyder’s actions, reported them to his team leader in the presence of other members of the team, “several of the guys turned and walked away,” said the retired SEAL. “They were disgusted.” He quoted Heath as saying, “I’m morally flexible but I can’t handle that.” Heath refused to comment for this article.

The retired SEAL, who spent the better part of two decades at the command, said he never asked Hyder why he mutilated the corpse. It wasn’t necessary. He assumed it was a twisted act of misplaced revenge over the previous days’ events — specifically, the gruesome death of Hyder’s teammate Neil Roberts.

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Top: Photo of helicopter on Takur Ghar. Bottom left: Screengrab from drone feed during the battle of Roberts Ridge. Bottom right: Candid photo of U.S. Navy SEAL Neil Roberts. Photos: U.S. Department of Defense; Screengrab from video by U.S. Department of Defense; U.S. Navy by the Roberts family

LESS THAN 48 HOURS before Objective Bull commenced, a small reconnaissance group from SEAL Team 6’s Red Team had tried to establish an observation post on the 10,000-foot peak of Takur Ghar, overlooking the Shah-i-Kot valley, where forces from the Army’s 10th Mountain Division intended to strike the last redoubt of al Qaeda forces massed in Afghanistan. Neil “Fifi” Roberts, a member of the SEAL recon team, fell 10 feet from the back of a Chinook and was stranded as the helicopter took fire from foreign al Qaeda fighters who were already on the snow-covered mountaintop. Two hours passed before the SEALs in the damaged helicopter were able to return. They didn’t know it, but Roberts was already dead, shot at close range in the head shortly after his helicopter departed the mountaintop. A Predator drone video feed filmed an enemy fighter standing over Roberts’s body for two minutes, trying to behead the dead American with a knife.

Eventually, two other elements of a quick reaction force — one of which included Hyder — landed at the top of Takur Ghar. In the ensuing 17-hour battle with the al Qaeda fighters, six more Americans were killed, and several were wounded. After the bodies were recovered, Hyder and the other members of Red Team were forced to reckon with the mutilation and near beheading of their fellow SEAL. Hyder was new to SEAL Team 6, but as the ranking officer on the ground during that operation, he was technically in charge. He took Roberts’s death hard.

Neil Roberts was the first member of SEAL Team 6 to die in the Afghan war, and among the first elite operators who died after 9/11. Beyond the dehumanizing manner in which the al Qaeda fighters had treated his corpse, Roberts’s death pierced the SEALs’ self-perception of invincibility.

The battle of Roberts Ridge, as it came to be known, has been frequently described in books and press accounts. But what happened during Objective Bull, the assault on the convoy in the Shah-i-Kot Valley, has never been previously reported.

Roberts’s death, and the subsequent operations in eastern Afghanistan during the winter 2002 deployment, left an indelible impression on SEAL Team 6, especially on Red Team. According to multiple SEAL Team 6 sources, the events of that day set off a cascade of extraordinary violence. As the legend of SEAL Team 6 grew, a rogue culture arose that operated outside of the Navy’s established mechanisms for command and investigation. Parts of SEAL Team 6 began acting with an air of impunity that disturbed observers within the command. Senior members of SEAL Team 6 felt the pattern of brutality was not only illegal but rose to the level of war crimes.

“To understand the violence, you have to begin at Roberts Ridge,” said one former member of SEAL Team 6 who deployed several times to Afghanistan. “When you see your friend killed, recover his body, and find that the enemy mutilated him? It’s a schoolyard mentality. ‘You guys want to play with those rules?’ ‘OK.’” Although this former SEAL acknowledged that war crimes are wrong, he understood how they happen. “You ask me to go living with the pigs, but I can’t go live with pigs and then not get dirty.”

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SEAL Team 6 patches. Clockwise from top left: Blue Squadron, known as the Pirates; Gold Squadron, known as the Crusaders or Knights; Red Squadron, known as the Redmen; and Silver Squadron.

NO SINGLE MILITARY unit has come to represent American military success or heroism more than SEAL Team 6, officially designated as the Naval Special Warfare Development Group and known in military vernacular as DevGru, Team 6, the Command, and Task Force Blue. Its operators are part of an elite, clandestine cadre. The men who make it through the grueling training represent roughly the top 10 percent of all SEALs. They are taught to live and if necessary die for one another. The extreme risks they take forge extreme bonds.

Made up of no more than 200 SEAL operators when the Afghan war began, SEAL Team 6 was the lesser known of the U.S. military’s elite “special mission” units. Created in 1980 and based at the Dam Neck Annex of Naval Air Station Oceana near Virginia Beach, the command prided itself on its culture of nonconformity with the larger military. The unit’s name itself is part of an attempt to obscure U.S. capabilities. When it was commissioned, the Navy had only two SEAL (Sea, Air, and Land) assault teams, but founding officer Cmdr. Richard Marcinko hoped that the number six would lead the Soviet military to inflate its assessment of the Navy’s SEALs.

When SEAL Team 6 first deployed to Afghanistan in January 2002, the command had three assault teams, Red, Blue, and Gold, each with a mascot. Red Team, known as the Redmen, employed a Native American warrior as a mascot; Blue Team, known as the Pirates, wore the Jolly Roger; and Gold Team, known as the Crusaders or Knights, wore a lion or a crusader’s cross.

The prevailing narrative about SEAL Team 6 in news coverage, bestselling books, and Hollywood movies is unambiguously heroic; it centers on the killing of Osama bin Laden and high-profile rescue missions. With few exceptions, a darker, more troubling story has been suppressed and ignored — a story replete with tactical brilliance on battlefields around the world coupled with a pattern of silence and deceit when “downrange” actions lead to episodes of criminal brutality. The unit’s elite stature has insulated its members from the scrutiny and military justice that lesser units would have faced for the same actions.

This account of the crimes of SEAL Team 6 results from a two-year investigation drawing on interviews with 18 current and former members of the unit, including four former senior leaders of the command. Other military and intelligence officials who have served with or investigated the unit were also interviewed. Most would speak about the unit only on background or without attribution, because nearly every facet of SEAL Team 6 is classified. Some sources asked for anonymity citing the probability of professional retaliation for speaking out against their peers and teammates. According to these sources, whether judged by its own private code or the international laws of war, the command has proven to be incapable and unwilling to hold itself accountable for war crimes.

Most SEALs did not commit atrocities, the sources said, but the problem was persistent and recurrent, like a stubborn virus. Senior leaders at the command knew about the misconduct and did little to eradicate it. The official SEAL creed reads, in part: “Uncompromising integrity is my standard. My character and honor are steadfast. My word is my bond.” But after 9/11, another code emerged that made lying — especially to protect a teammate or the command from accountability — the more honorable course of action.

“You can’t win an investigation on us,” one former SEAL Team 6 leader told me.
“You don’t whistleblow on the teams … and when you win on the battlefield, you don’t lose investigations.”

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BY THE TIME the two dozen Red Team operators departed for Objective Bull, tension had built up between Hyder, a commissioned officer, and the enlisted operators technically under his command. The situation was not particularly unusual. Historically, SEAL Team 6 is known as a unit where officers “rent their lockers,” because they typically serve about three years before rotating out, whereas the enlisted operators remain for much of their careers, often for a decade or more. Simply put, the unit is an enlisted mafia, where tactics are driven by the expertise developed by the unit’s enlisted assaulters, whose abilities and experience at making rapid threat decisions make up the command’s core resource. Officers like Hyder, who did not pass through the brutal SEAL Team 6 internal training program, known as Green Team, are often viewed with suspicion and occasionally contempt by the enlisted SEAL operators.

Even before the attack on the convoy and the alleged mutilation of the dead Afghan, Hyder had committed at least one killing with questionable justification. Several weeks earlier, in January 2002, Hyder killed an unarmed Afghan man north of Kandahar during the unit’s first ground assault of the war. In that operation, Hyder led a team of Red operators on a nighttime mission to capture suspected al Qaeda militants in a compound. After securing several detainees and cordoning the area, Hyder and his men waited for their helicopters to arrive and extract them. During the mission, the SEALs reported receiving small arms fire from exterior positions, though no one was hit. After 90 minutes, as the helicopters were nearing the rendezvous point, one of the SEALs alerted Hyder that an old man who had been lying in a ditch nearby was walking toward the SEALs’ position.

In an interview, Hyder said the man had approached his position with his arms tucked into his armpits and did not heed warnings from other SEALs to stop. Hyder acknowledged that the man likely did not understand English and probably couldn’t see very well. Unlike the SEALs, the man was not wearing night-vision goggles. “He continued to move towards us,” Hyder said. “I assessed he was nearing a distance where he was within an area where he could do damage with a grenade.” Hyder said that a week earlier, a militant had detonated a concealed grenade after approaching some American CIA officers, seriously injuring them. “He kept moving toward us, so at 15 meters I put one round in him and he dropped. Unfortunately, it turned out he had an audiocassette in his hand. By the rules of engagement he became a legitimate target and it was supported. It’s a question, why was he a threat? After all that activity, he’d been hiding in a ditch for 90 minutes, he gets up, he’s spoken to, yelled at in the dark … it’s disturbing. I’m disappointed he didn’t take a knee.”

Hyder, who was the ground force commander for the Kandahar operation, was cleared in an after-action review of the shooting. The rules of engagement allowed the ground force commander to shoot anyone he viewed as a threat, regardless of whether they were armed at the time of the shooting. But in the eyes of the enlisted SEALs of Red Team, Hyder had killed a man who didn’t have to die. Two of the operators with Hyder reported afterward that the man was not a threat. One of those operators was Neil Roberts.

“The SEALs believe that they can handle the discipline themselves, that’s equal to or greater than what the criminal justice system would give to the person.”


The morning after Objective Bull, Red Team gathered at Bagram Air Base. Most of the operators held a meeting to discuss what had happened on the mission. No officers were present, and the enlisted SEALs used the meeting to address Hyder’s alleged mutilation of the dead Afghan the previous day. The discussion covered battlefield ethics. Inside a heated tent, as many as 40 SEAL Team 6 operators asked themselves how they wanted to treat their fallen enemies. Should they seek revenge for Roberts? Was it acceptable, as Hyder had done with the wounded man whom he executed, to desecrate the dead?

“We talked about it … and 35 guys nodded their heads saying this is not who we are. We shoot ’em. No issues with that. And then we move on,” said a former SEAL who was present at the meeting. “There’s honor involved and Vic Hyder obviously traipsed all over that,” he said. “Mutilation isn’t part of the game.”

Nonetheless, Red Team did not report Hyder’s alleged battlefield mutilation, a war crime. In what would become part of a pattern of secrecy and silence, the SEAL operators dealt with the issue on their own and kept the incident from their chain of command.


“The SEALs believe that they can handle the discipline themselves, that’s equal to or greater than what the criminal justice system would give to the person,” said Susan Raser, a retired Naval Criminal Investigative Service agent who led the agency’s criminal division but did not investigate this mission. “They have an internal process that they think is sufficient and they are not inclined to cooperate unless they absolutely have to.” Raser, who conducted investigations into both regular SEAL units and SEAL Team 6, said that in her experience, SEALs simply didn’t report wrongdoing by their teammates.

Senior leaders at the command knew the grisly circumstances of Roberts’s death had unsettled Red Team. “Fifi was mutilated,” said a retired noncommissioned SEAL leader who was involved in internal discussions about how to prevent SEAL Team 6 from seeking revenge. “And then we had to address a very important question, how do you get the guys’ heads straight to mitigate any retaliation for Fifi? Otherwise we knew it’s going to get out of control. A third of the guys literally think they’re Apache warriors, then you had the Muslim way of removing a head. I understand the desire, I don’t condone it, but there was definite retaliation.”

Hyder told me that he did not desecrate the body. “I deny it,” he said, adding that he didn’t understand why Heath would have claimed to have witnessed it. “Even if it was true, I don’t know why he would say that.” Hyder said he was not aware of the Bagram meeting held by the enlisted operators about him or the accusations. “Why would I do that?” he asked. “Somebody else is making this up. Memories get distorted over 14 years. They’re telling you how they remember it. There was a lot of chaos. I’m telling you the absolute truth.”

After the deployment, SEAL Team 6’s leadership examined Hyder’s actions during Objective Bull. For some of them, what was most troubling was not that Hyder might have taken gratuitous revenge for Roberts’s death on an unrelated civilian, but that on more than one occasion, as ground force commander, he had fired his own weapon to neutralize perceived threats. “If you have multiple incidents where the ground force commander pulls the trigger on a deployment, you have a total breakdown of operational tactics,” said one retired SEAL leader. “It’s not their responsibility — that is why we have DevGru operators.”

Beyond the story of the alleged mutilation, the sight of the dead civilians killed during the opening airstrikes of Objective Bull, especially the women and children, left members of Red Team with deep psychological scars. “It ruined some of these guys,” said the former SEAL operator on the mission.

Six days after Objective Bull, the Pentagon announced at a press conference that an airstrike had killed 14 people, who a spokesperson said were “somehow affiliated” with al Qaeda. Sources at SEAL Team 6 who were present during the operation estimated the number of dead was between 17 and 20. Inside the command, the incident became known as the Wedding Party bombing after it was learned that the convoy was driving to a wedding.

Hyder finished his tour at SEAL Team 6 shortly after returning from the Afghanistan deployment and was later promoted to the rank of commander, the Navy equivalent of a lieutenant colonel. He was awarded the Silver Star for his efforts at Takur Ghar to save Roberts and the rest of the Red Team recon element.
A few years later, after Hyder’s name was mentioned for another rotation in Red Team, some of Hyder’s former operators informed SEAL Team 6 leadership that he was not welcome back in the unit.

Neil Roberts’s bent rifle was placed on the wall of Red Team’s room at the SEALs’ base near Virginia Beach, a visible reminder of their teammate, their first deployment, and the troubles that would follow.

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2. BLOODY THE HATCHET

ONE CLEAR SIGN that all was not right with the command was the way sadism crept into the SEALs’ practices, with no apparent consequences. A few months after Objective Bull, for example, one of Hyder’s operators began taunting dying insurgents on videos he shot as part of his post-operation responsibilities. These “bleed out” videos were replayed on multiple occasions at Bagram Air Base. The operator who made them, a former SEAL leader said, would gather other members of Red Squadron to watch the last few seconds of an enemy fighter’s life. “It was war porn,” said the former SEAL, who viewed one of the videos. “No one would do anything about them.” The operator who made the bleed-out videos was forced out of SEAL Team 6 the following year after a drunken episode at Bagram in which he pistol-whipped another SEAL.

The SEALs’ successes throughout 2002 resulted in the Joint Special Operations Command choosing the unit to lead the hunt for al Qaeda, as well as the invasion of Baghdad in March 2003. The rise of JSOC as the sharp tip of America’s military effort led to a similar increase in size and responsibility for SEAL Team 6 in the early years of America’s two post-9/11 wars. By 2006, the command rapidly expanded, growing from 200 to 300 operators. What were originally known as assault teams now formally became squadrons, and by 2008, the expansion led to the creation of Silver, a fourth assault squadron. One result of the growth was that back in Virginia, the captain in command of the entire 300-SEAL force had far less oversight over tactical battlefield decisions. It was at this point that some critics in the military complained that SEAL Team 6 — with their full beards and arms, legs, and torsos covered in tattoos — looked like members of a biker gang. Questions about battlefield atrocities persisted, though some excused these actions in the name of psychological warfare against the enemy.

Against this backdrop, in 2006, Hugh Wyman Howard III, a descendant of an admiral and himself a Naval Academy graduate, took command of Red Squadron and its roughly 50 operators. Howard, who has since risen through the ranks and is currently a rear admiral, was twice rejected by his superiors for advanced SEAL Team 6 training. But in 1998, after intervention by a senior officer at Dam Neck, Howard was given a slot on Green Team. Because of Howard’s pedigree, SEAL Team 6 leaders running the training program felt pressure to pass him. After being shepherded through the nine-month training, he entered Red Squadron. Howard took the unit’s identity seriously, and after 9/11, despite the questionable circumstances that led to his ascent, his influence steadily grew.

In keeping with Red Squadron’s appropriation of Native American culture, Howard came up with the idea to bestow 14-inch hatchets on each SEAL who had a year of service in the squadron. The hatchets, paid for by private donations Howard solicited, were custom-made by Daniel Winkler, a highly regarded knife maker in North Carolina who designed several of the period tomahawks and knives used in the movie “The Last of the Mohicans.” Winkler sells similar hatchets for $600 each. The hatchets Howard obtained were stamped with a Native American warrior in a headdress and crossed tomahawks.

At first the hatchets appeared to be merely symbolic, because such heavy, awkward weapons had no place in the gear of a special operator. “There’s no military purpose for it,” a former Red Squadron operator told me. “But they are a great way of being part of a team. It was given as an honor, one more step to strive for, another sign that you’re doing a good job.”

For some of Howard’s men, however, the hatchets soon became more than symbolic as they were used at times to hack dead fighters in Iraq and Afghanistan. Others used them to break doorknobs on raids or kill militants in hand-to-hand combat.

During the first deployments in both Iraq and Afghanistan, it was common practice to take fingers, scalp, or skin from slain enemy combatants for identification purposes. One former SEAL Team 6 leader told me that he feared the practice would lead to members of the unit using the DNA samples as an excuse to mutilate and desecrate the dead. By 2007, when Howard and Red Squadron showed up with their hatchets in Iraq, internal reports of operators using the weapons to hack dead and dying militants were provided to both the commanding officer of SEAL Team 6 at that time, Capt. Scott Moore, and his deputy, Capt. Tim Szymanski.

Howard, who declined to answer questions from The Intercept, rallied his SEALs and others before missions and deployments by telling them to “bloody the hatchet.” One SEAL I spoke with said that Howard’s words were meant to be inspirational, like those of a coach, and were not an order to use the hatchets to commit war crimes. Others were much more critical. Howard was often heard asking his operators whether they’d gotten “blood on your hatchet” when they returned from a deployment.
Howard’s distribution of the hatchets worried several senior SEAL Team 6 members and some CIA paramilitary officers who worked with his squadron.

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Top left: Red Squadron tattoo. Top right: A bearded Red Squadron SEAL in Afghanistan. Bottom left: A Winkler hatchet similar to those issued to Red Squadron. Bottom right: Undated photo of Adm. Wyman Howard. Photos: Facebook; airsoft-army.com; http://www.lightfigher.net; Facebook

BEGINNING IN 2005 and continuing through 2008, as U.S. Special Operations forces became more central to the American military strategy, the number and frequency of operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan increased dramatically.

One former SEAL Team 6 senior leader said that he and others at the command were concerned that the scale and intensity of the violence in Iraq was so great that U.S. operators might be tempted to engage in retaliatory mutilations, a tactic al Qaeda and the Iraqi insurgency sometimes employed. “Iraq was a different kind of war — nothing we’d ever seen,” said the now-retired Team 6 leader. “So many dead bodies, so many, everywhere, and so the potential opportunities for mutilations were great.”

The operational tempo was very high. “On my 2005 deployment in Afghanistan, we only went on a handful of ops,” said a retired SEAL who served under Howard. “By the time we moved over to Iraq, we were doing missions as much as five nights a week. Iraq was a target rich environment, and Wyman allowed us to be more aggressive.” According to several former SEAL Team 6 leaders, it was JSOC commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal who ordered the increased operational tempo and pushed SEAL Team 6, including Howard, to conduct more frequent raids to help wipe out the insurgency in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Howard, according to two of his former operators, was more willing than previous officers to greenlight operations based on “weak” intelligence, leading to more raids and strikes. As a result, Howard became popular among the enlisted SEALs under his command, several of whom defended and praised him.

Howard’s critics argue that the hatchets were emblems of the rogue, at times criminal, conduct on the battlefield the commander was encouraging. “Every one of us is issued and carries a suppressed weapon,” said one former senior SEAL, referring to the Heckler & Koch assault rifles, equipped with silencers, issued to the operators. “There just isn’t a need to carry a two-pound hatchet on the battlefield.” For those who favored them, this former SEAL said, the hatchets could be justified as being no more than knives. “It’s a great way to explain it away, but they have the hatchets to flaunt the law. Our job is to ensure that we conduct ourselves in a way befitting the American people and the American flag. The hatchet says, ‘We don’t care about the Geneva Conventions’ and that ‘we are above the law and can do whatever we want.’”

Critics inside the command were troubled by the combination of battlefield aggression and Howard’s lack of military discipline. A retired noncommissioned officer said Howard’s encouragement and provision of Winkler hatchets was simply adding fuel to the fire. The power of the Native American mascot, he said, was not to be dismissed. Since the 1980s, when Red Team was first created, there were many operators in the unit who had experienced a “metamorphosis of identity and persona” into Native American warriors. “Guys are going out every night killing everything. The hatchet was too intimate, too closely aligned with a tomahawk, to have been a good idea.” The former SEAL, who himself had served in Red during his career, said that by giving operators the weapon of their battlefield persona, Howard sent an unmistakable message to his men: Use it. “That’s when you take away a hatchet,” the retired SEAL said. “Not provide them.”

During one Iraq deployment, Howard returned from a raid to an operations center with blood on his hatchet and his uniform. Back at the base, he gave a speech to a group of analysts and nonoperational officers in which he told them that his bloody appearance was a demonstration of how a battlefield commander should lead. One operator, who confirmed Howard’s remarks, added his own: “That’s the business we’re in.”

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3. HEAD ON A PLATTER

THE DEATH AND attempted decapitation of Neil Roberts on Takur Ghar affected no one so profoundly as Britt Slabinski, the operator who led the rescue team back up the mountain only to find that Roberts was already dead. One former teammate who served with Slabinski described his effort that day — outnumbered and with inferior fire support, taking incoming fire from the moment the helicopter landed — as “one of the most heroic things I’ve ever seen.” On the day when SEAL Team 6 lost its first operator in the post-9/11 era, Slabinski became a unit legend.

By all accounts, Slabinski, a second-generation SEAL who joined Team 6 in 1993, was an excellent sniper and reconnaissance operator. Thin and lanky, he was less physically imposing than many SEALs but was charismatic and dedicated. After Roberts’s death, Slabinksi wanted revenge. In audio of an unpublished interview with the late Malcolm MacPherson, author of a 2005 book about Roberts Ridge, Slabinski describes in great detail an operation that took place about a week after Objective Bull. In that mission, known as Objective Wolverine, Slabinski and his fellow SEALs were sent in Chinook helicopters to follow a convoy they believed was filled with al Qaeda fighters escaping to Pakistan. A drone flying above the convoy showed the occupants of three vehicles were heavily armed.

After the Chinook miniguns strafed the vehicles and stopped them, Slabinski and his team of snipers landed and moved to a rise several hundred yards away from one of the trucks and began firing sniper rounds at the militants. In that brief firefight, the SEALs killed nearly 20 foreign al Qaeda fighters, some of whom carried U.S. military equipment taken from Takur Ghar. Slabinski told MacPherson that Wolverine had been “really good payback.”

“Just a phenomenal, phenomenal day. We just slaughtered those dudes.”
After describing one particular fighter who from a distance had resembled Osama bin Laden, Slabinksi continued: “To this day, we’ve never had anything as good as that. Oh my gosh. We needed that … there was not a better group of people to go and do that. The guys needed that to get back in the saddle because everyone was gun shy.”

“I mean, talk about the funny stuff we do. After I shot this dude in the head, there was a guy who had his feet, just his feet, sticking out of some little rut or something over here. I mean, he was dead, but people have got nerves. I shot him about 20 times in the legs, and every time you’d kick him, er, shoot him, he would kick up, you could see his body twitching and all that. It was like a game. Like, ‘hey look at this dude,’ and the guy would just twitch again. It was just good therapy. It was really good therapy for everybody who was there.”

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Audio from an unpublished interview with Britt Slabinksi conducted by Malcolm MacPherson, author of a 2005 book on the battle of Roberts Ridge.

Shortly after that operation, Slabinski returned to the SEAL Team 6 base at Dam Neck. He was awarded a Navy Cross, the second highest battlefield award for heroism. For several years afterward, the leaders at the command limited Slabinski’s battlefield exposure — assigning him to Green Team as an instructor, for example — hoping the psychological wounds from Roberts Ridge would heal.

By late 2007, Slabinski was deployed to Afghanistan as the senior noncommissioned officer in Blue Squadron. The war was entering its seventh year and had become intractable, with no clear path to victory. Early in the war, the SEALs’ mission was to hunt down al Qaeda’s senior leaders, who had largely vanished into Pakistan, but now Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the leader of JSOC, extended the mission to target the Taliban, who along with al Qaeda were moving back and forth across the Pakistani border with impunity. The SEALs were now going after low-level Taliban financiers and shadow governors.

Blue Squadron was led at that time by Cmdr. Peter Vasely, a Naval Academy graduate who had not gone through the advanced assault training of Green Team that the other members of SEAL Team 6 had endured. He was an outsider, despite having been at the command for many years. Like Vic Hyder, he struggled to command the respect of his men. Slabinski — experienced, charismatic, and by now legendary — bridged the gap.

According to two senior SEAL Team 6 sources, however, the leadership dynamic in Blue Squadron was a failure. By 2007, the command’s leadership was aware that some Blue Squadron operators were using specialized knives to conduct “skinnings.” Using the excuse of collecting DNA, which required a small piece of skin containing hair follicles, operators were taking large strips of skin from dead enemy fighters. The two leading officers at the command, Moore and Szymanski, were informed that small groups in each of the three squadrons were mutilating and desecrating combatants in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Slabinkski and others in the squadron had fallen under the influence of an obscure war novel, “Devil’s Guard,” published in 1971 by George Robert Elford. The book purported to be a true account of an S.S. officer who with dozens of other soldiers escaped Germany after World War II, joined the French Foreign Legion, and spent years in Vietnam brutalizing the insurgency. The novel, which glorifies Nazi military practices, describes counterinsurgency tactics such as mass slaughter and desecration and other forms of wanton violence as a means of waging psychological warfare against the “savage” Vietnamese.

“These fucking morons read the book ‘The Devil’s Guard’ and believed it,” said one of the former SEAL Team 6 leaders who investigated Slabinski and Blue Squadron. “It’s a work of fiction billed as the Bible, as the truth. In reality, it’s bullshit. But we all see what we want to see.” Slabinski and the Blue Squadron SEALs deployed to Afghanistan were “frustrated, and that book gave them the answers they wanted to see: Terrorize the Taliban and they’d surrender. The truth is that such stuff only galvanizes the enemy.”

DEVIL'S GUARD
CONDEMNED TO DEATH FOR THE BLOODBATHS OF WORLD WAR II, THEY SERVED THEIR SENTENCE -- ON THE KILLING FIELDS OF VIETNAM.
The fascinating, true story of the French Foreign Legion's Nazi battalion

PUBLISHER'S NOTE

This book is being published to provide the reading public with a clear insight into the mind and personality of an unregenerate Nazi, to show the dehumanization of men in war, and to illustrate the ironies and hypocrisies to which men are driven in defense of their actions.

The publication of this book in no way indicates that the publisher agrees with or condones the points of view it expresses.

-- Devil's Guard, by George Robert Elford




One telling illustration of what had gone wrong with Blue Squadron occurred on December 17, 2007, during a raid in Helmand province. Slabinski had told his operators that he wanted “a head on a platter.” Although some of the more seasoned SEALs took the statement metaphorically, at least one operator took Slabinski at his word, interpreting it as an order.

Later that night, after Blue Squadron’s assaulters had successfully carried out the raid, killing three or four armed men and recovering weapons and explosives, Vasely and Slabinski conducted a walk-through of the compound. Vasely, who was wearing night-vision goggles, looked through a window and saw one of his operators, his back turned, squatting over the body of a dead militant. Vasely later told investigators he saw the operator moving his hand back and forth over the militant’s neck in a sawing motion. Alarmed at seeing what he believed was a decapitation, he told Slabinski to go inside and see what the young operator was doing. By the time Slabinski entered the room where the dead militant lay, according to three former SEAL Team 6 leaders, the operator had severed much of the dead man’s neck.

Slabinski did not report the decapitation, however.
He told Vasely that the operator had been trying to remove the dead fighter’s chest rack, a small vest that can hold ammunition and clips. Slabinski told Vasely, and later, Navy investigators, that there had been “no foul play.”

After leaving the compound and returning to their base in Kandahar province, Vasely reported to Moore, his superior officer, that he believed he had witnessed a war crime, a mutilation. Vasely told Moore he wanted an investigation into the incident. Moore, sitting in his office in Virginia Beach, pressed Vasely: What had he actually seen? Was there another explanation?

Moore told his deputy, Szymanski, who was in Afghanistan, to sort things out. Ten days later, the internal JSOC investigation was closed. The Naval Criminal Investigative Service then opened an investigation but was forced to rely on photographs and witness statements because active hostilities made the alleged crime scene inaccessible. When investigators approached the operator accused of mutilating the dead fighter, he exercised his right to remain silent and his right to counsel. A few days after the attempted interview, investigators obtained photos purporting to be of the dead fighter. No cuts were visible in the photos, according to a military official who has reviewed the file. Three weeks after the incident, NCIS closed its investigation, concluding that there was no evidence the SEAL had violated the laws of armed conflict. But according to multiple SEAL sources, the incident did in fact occur.

Szymanski, according to these sources, was directed by Moore to make the episode disappear. “Tim took a dive,” said a former noncommissioned SEAL officer, and it was “at Moore’s direction.” Szymanski had known Slabinski for at least 15 years. They had bonded over Roberts’s death.

Although Blue Squadron had avoided criminal charges, their battlefield conduct continued to set off alarms within the command. Some SEAL Team 6 leaders were appalled by how easily Vasely and Szymanski had folded under Moore’s pressure.

Within two weeks of the apparent beheading, Moore deployed to Afghanistan. While he was there, he confronted the Blue Squadron troop and the operator who’d tried to behead the Taliban fighter. A former SEAL Team 6 leader who has knowledge of the episode told me Moore shamed Slabinski and the squadron for their conduct. That was the only punishment. (The Intercept is withholding the name of the operator, who believed he was following an order. He remains on active duty and has not responded to requests for comment.)

One of the former SEAL Team 6 leaders, who investigated several Blue Squadron incidents, including the mutilation of bodies, said he repeatedly asked the operators why they felt the need to commit such acts. “Often we’d hear, well, they’re savages,” the former leader said. “They don’t play by the rules, so why should we?”

The Intercept submitted three pages of questions to both Adm. Szymanksi, who as head of Naval Special Warfare now commands all SEALs in the Navy, and Capt. Vasely, who currently runs the operations divisions of JSOC. Both declined to comment. Moore did not respond to requests for comment. A spokesperson at Naval Special Warfare, which oversees SEAL Team 6, declined repeated requests for interviews and refused to answer a detailed list of questions, writing in a statement, “We do not entertain or support public discussion of classified information because it puts our forces, their families and our future operations at great risk.” The SEAL command asserted that “all members of Naval Special Warfare are required to comply with the Laws of Armed Conflict in the conduct of military operations.”

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Top: Capt. Peter Vasely with members of Blue Squadron in Afghanistan. Bottom: Britt Slabinski, left, and Capt. Timothy Szymanski, commanding officer of the Naval Special Warfare Group, after Slabinski was blackballed by SEAL Team 6 in Norfolk, Va., March 25, 2011. Photos: http://www.navyseals.hu; Robert J. Fluegel/U.S. Navy

IN 2010, WHEN Slabinski was up for a promotion at the command, SEAL Team 6 leaders conducted two internal inquiries before making a decision. Almost immediately, the issue that received the most scrutiny was the December 2007 attempted beheading. According to two former SEALs, Slabinski told his teammates and superiors that his remark about wanting a head was figurative and not a literal order. By then, there was no question about whether the attempted beheading had occurred; the question was why.

“We didn’t debate whether Slab had told his guys he wanted a head on a platter — he copped to that. The only issue was, was his order real, or just talk?” said one of the retired SEALs involved. “It didn’t make a difference. He said it and one of his operators did it because he believed he was following an order.”

Ten officers and master chiefs voted unanimously against allowing Slabinski to return to the command. At that point, the second inquiry was commissioned by the SEAL Team 6 commanding officer, Pete Van Hooser. Evidence was presented that Slabinski gave an order to shoot all the men they encountered during another raid, whether or not they were armed. According to the New York Times, Afghans accused Blue Squadron of killing civilians during that operation, but a subsequent military investigation determined that all those killed had been armed and hostile. When Slabinski was confronted by the command’s senior enlisted leader about whether he had instructed Blue Squadron operators to kill all males during the operation, code-named Pantera, Slabinski acknowledged that he had done so. The second inquiry also uncovered the “head on a platter” remark as the instigation for the beheading in December 2007, but the command’s senior enlisted leader told Slabinski he would not get the promotion or be allowed to serve at the command again because of the Pantera order. Overall, it had become clear that Slabinski’s run as a leader on the battlefield caused Blue Squadron to come “off the rails,” according to a former SEAL Team 6 leader.

Slabinski has not responded to multiple queries and requests for comment, though he did deny to the New York Times in 2015 that he gave the illegal pre-mission guidance to kill all males. In his interview with the Times, Slabinski asserted that it was he who had witnessed the operator slashing at the dead fighter’s throat, saying, “It appeared he was mutilating a body.” Slabinski portrayed himself as trying to police his men and said that he gave them “a very stern speech.” He claimed to the Times that he told his men, “If any of you feel a need to do any retribution, you should call me.” Slabinski says nothing in the Times story about Vasely ordering him to investigate the scene or the remark about a head on a platter.

“To this day, he thinks the guys turned on him,” said one of the former SEAL Team 6 leaders. “Well, they did. What we didn’t do was turn him in. You will step over the line and you start dehumanizing people. You really do. And it takes the team, it takes individuals to pull you back. And part of that was getting rid of Britt Slabinski.”

Two other SEAL Team 6 leaders with a combined 35 years at the command said the removal of Slabinski and the failure to pursue official punishment was an indictment of the senior officers — they had failed one of their most basic duties, to hold themselves and others accountable for wrongdoing.

When Szymanski, who was then commanding officer of all regular East Coast-based SEAL teams, heard that Slabinski had been rejected by Team 6, he requested him as his senior enlisted adviser. The request was approved and Slabinski was promoted.

“If a guy cuts off another guy’s head and nothing happens, that becomes the standard,” said one of the former SEAL Team 6 leaders. “You’re moving the bar and buying into an emotional justification, ‘War is hell.’ If you’re not disciplining your force, you’re saying it’s OK.”


Slabinski retired from the military in 2014 after 25 years in the Navy. The operator accused of the attempted beheading has experienced difficulties as a result of his service. Last year, the command became concerned about his psychological condition, determining that he was medically unfit to deploy again. His superiors believed he had become “unglued” over the 2007 deployment. He was quietly removed from Team 6 and returned to a regular SEAL unit. He has told at least one former SEAL Team 6 teammate that he hopes to never deploy again.

“He’s just beginning to suffer for what he did,” said another SEAL Team 6 leader.

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Part 2 of 2

4. A KIND OF SPORT

ON THE SECOND floor of the SEAL Team 6 headquarters in the Dam Neck naval annex, a computer, known as the “ops computer,” stores the classified data on every mission the unit has completed for the past decade. Here, commanders returning from a deployment leave their hard drives with technicians who transfer PowerPoints, after-actions reports, and photos of each operation a squadron conducted abroad. The database contains photographs of persons killed by SEAL operators during their missions and other mission documentation.

Some of those photographs, especially those taken of casualties from 2005 through 2008, show deceased enemy combatants with their skulls split open by a rifle or pistol round at the upper forehead, exposing their brain matter. The foreign fighters who suffered these V-shaped wounds were either killed in battle and later shot at close range or finished off with a security round while dying. Among members of SEAL Team 6, this practice of desecrating enemy casualties was called “canoeing.”

The canoeing photos are dramatic documentary evidence of the extreme and unnecessary violence that began to occur during multiple high-risk, exhausting, and traumatizing tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. “There is and was no military reason whatsoever to split someone’s skull open with a single round,” said a former SEAL Team 6 leader. “It’s sport.”

The former SEAL Team 6 leader said that he first noticed canoeing in 2004, and that it does occur accidentally on the battlefield, but rarely. He said canoeing became “big” in 2007. “I’d look through the post-op photos and see multiple canoes on one objective, several times a deployment,” the retired SEAL said. When SEAL Team 6 operators were occasionally confronted about the desecration, the SEAL leader said, they’d often joke that they were just “great shots.”

Canoeing was just one of several acts of mutilation frequently carried out by SEALs. Two different sources said that over a six-year period — roughly 2005 through 2011 — battlefield reports and accounts of atrocities, particularly mutilations and taking of trophies, were ignored by SEAL Team 6 leadership. One source said his superiors repeatedly refused to address the issue.

The lack of battlefield discipline was not limited to a single squadron. Unlawful violence, aberrations from rules of engagement, mutilations, and disrespect of enemy casualties, actions that had been isolated at the beginning of the Afghan war, had by this point spread throughout SEAL Team 6.

In the early years of the war, SEAL Team 6 had an inflexible standard: Shooting people who were unarmed was forbidden and anyone who did so had to demonstrate the target had displayed hostile intent. Operators and officers prided themselves on their ability to kill only those who were deemed a threat.

If a SEAL couldn’t justify the threat after a shooting, he was quietly removed from the unit. But even that rule evolved over time. SEALs were given wide berth as long as they could explain why they made the decision to shoot an unarmed person. In 2007, for example, a Gold Squadron sniper was pushed out of the unit after he killed three unarmed people — including a child — in at least two different operations. He was allowed to return to the regular SEAL teams. No investigation into an unjustified killing has ever resulted in formal disciplinary action against a member of SEAL Team 6.

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Top left: CIA paramilitary officer and former SEAL Team 6 member Richard Smethers. Top right: Adm. William McRaven. Bottom: McRaven, left, and Capt. Scott Moore, right, then commander of SEAL Team 6. Photos: United States Navy

IN 2008, TENSIONS began to rise between SEAL Team 6 and the CIA over operations in Afghanistan. Paramilitary officers from the CIA, including a covert joint unit under the agency’s command called the Omega program, worked closely with the SEALs. These small teams of CIA, Seal Team 6, and Afghan commandos operated under the agency’s Title 50 authority, which governs covert activities. This meant there was less oversight over their missions — and less accountability if things went wrong.

Late that year, the CIA joined operators from Gold Squadron for an operation near Jalalabad. According to a CIA officer with direct knowledge of the incident, the CIA requested that the SEALs capture, rather than kill, their militant targets. During the pre-dawn raid, a small team from Gold Squadron breached a compound that was home to an insurgent cell that had targeted a U.S. base. Inside, they found six militants, four in one room, all sleeping with weapons near their beds. Despite orders to detain the men, the SEALs killed all six. In the room with four of the suspected insurgents, four SEALs counted down and canoed each sleeping man with a shot to the forehead. One of their teammates killed the other two targets in another room. All six were photographed.

The CIA team on the operation was angry because they had lost an opportunity to interrogate the suspected militants. “These were guys who were running a cell near our base,” the CIA officer said. “We could’ve used the intel.” Outside the compound, the SEALs were quick to show the photos to others on the assault team. “They were smiling, almost gleeful,” he said. “Canoeing them was funny.”

Shortly after that operation, a CIA paramilitary officer named Richard Smethers, who was himself a retired SEAL Team 6 officer, complained to his CIA superiors in Kabul that SEALs were committing atrocities. Smethers threatened to expose the SEALs for what he believed was a series of war crimes; the canoeing incident was just one of several operations in which Smethers alleged that Gold Squadron operators violated the laws of war. Over a period of several weeks, a fight erupted between SEAL Team 6 and CIA officers in Afghanistan. The SEALs quickly intervened and made a deal with the CIA station in Kabul. Gold Squadron was set to redeploy to the U.S., and the SEALs promised to rein in their operators. In exchange, Smethers, who never filed an official allegation or complaint, was sent back to the U.S.
Smethers did not respond to requests for comment.

According to multiple members of SEAL Team 6, the fight with the CIA was one of the few instances in which the command’s battlefield misconduct was in danger of being exposed. A retired noncommissioned officer who tried to police the unit said the command suffered from “unspoken oaths of allegiance” among both the officers and the operators, and that the first instinct when misconduct surfaced was to “protect the command and then the men” rather than hold bad actors accountable.

“It’s important that you put this stuff in context,” the CIA officer said. “I’m not going to tell you this didn’t happen. Yes, we — they committed war crimes. It happens in war. War is an adrenaline rush. After three or four deployments in, you need more to get that stimulation. We didn’t hit women or kids. We killed bad guys. And afterwards, we added the psychological warfare.”

The CIA declined to comment for this article.

SMETHERS’S THREAT TO expose Team 6 came just as Vice Adm. William McRaven settled in as the new commander of the Joint Special Operations Command. McRaven became the first Navy SEAL to lead JSOC and was already familiar with Dam Neck’s status as the disrespectful sibling in the U.S. special operations family. In the early 1980s, a group of seasoned enlisted SEAL Team 6 operators kicked McRaven off a training exercise, relieving him of his already tenuous command for being too rule-bound. McRaven was subsequently transferred from the unit.

Just eight months after taking over JSOC, after a series of complaints from the Afghan government over special operations night raids and civilian deaths, McRaven sought to pull Team 6 back from its overly aggressive stance. He ordered a pause in most SEAL and JSOC operations over a two-week period in February 2009. Although the stoppage was not limited to the SEALs, his former unit pushed back against a new set of operational guidelines.

First, the SEALs would now be required to do “call outs” before entering a compound. The intention was to permit women and children to get out of harm’s way before operators conducted their assault. The operators were unhappy about the new restriction, arguing that call outs gave up the tactical advantage of surprise. McRaven’s other directive required a more extensive post-operation review to document and justify combatant deaths. Previously, the command had required only a frontal shot and a profile of each dead militant. The new rule required a full photographic accounting of who was killed, photos of the entire body, where the target was when he dropped, what weapons he held, the vantage point of the operator when he fired, and other atmospherics.

This directive had one primary purpose: to protect U.S. forces from accusations of unjustified killings by Afghan government officials
. The photos and other review documents could be shared with local officials to justify operations. But the directive had another benefit. With more extensive photographic documentation, SEAL operators had less time to fire unnecessary rounds into the dead, and they had to use the photos to explain why they fired their weapon. As a result, photographs of canoed enemy fighters virtually ceased to appear in after-action reports.

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MCRAVEN’S NEW ORDERS set off a struggle between the JSOC commander and SEAL Team 6’s enlisted ranks that played out in a series of high-profile hostage rescues ordered by President Obama. The first and best-known was the rescue of Capt. Richard Phillips, captain of the commercial vessel the “Maersk Alabama,” in April 2009 from Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean. Red Squadron snipers killed three pirates who were holding Phillips in a lifeboat. But McRaven, who commanded the operation, had not ordered the snipers to fire, and neither had a SEAL Team 6 officer. The sniper team leader acted under his own “emergency assault” authority to kill the pirates as soon as all three could be taken out at the same time. McRaven, who was informed of the killings only after he knew Phillips was safe, was incensed.

After the operation, $30,000 in cash, which the pirates had stashed in a lifeboat, went missing.
The SEALs were suspected of taking the money. The FBI and NCIS investigated two members of Red Squadron and conducted polygraphs, but the money was never recovered and neither of the SEALs was charged.

Then, in October 2010, SEAL Team 6 set out to rescue a British aid worker named Linda Norgrove, who had been taken captive in Afghanistan. The operation, code-named ANSTRUTHER, an homage to Norgrove’s Scottish heritage, was authorized by British Prime Minister David Cameron. The operation commanded high-level interest because Norgrove, though in Afghanistan as an aid worker for DAI, an American NGO, secretly worked with Britain’s MI-6, according to four U.S. military and intelligence sources. Two of these sources told me that the British government informed SEAL Team 6 mission planners that Norgrove worked for the spy agency, and that they had been tracking her movements since the abduction. Asked for comment, the British government told The Intercept that it does not comment on security matters and would “neither confirm nor deny” that Norgrove worked for the intelligence agency.

During a late-night raid at a northern Kunar compound, Silver Squadron operators killed several captors but accidentally killed Norgrove when an inexperienced SEAL threw a fragment grenade at one of the captors.

The operation’s team leader believed that a suicide vest had been detonated by one of the captors, and two Silver Squadron operators initially withheld the fact that a grenade had been thrown. Consequently, the SEALs initially reported to JSOC senior leaders that Norgrove had been killed by her captors.

Later, a JSOC officer watching drone footage of the operation noticed one of the SEALs throw an object that landed and exploded near where Norgrove’s body was found. One of the two SEALs who knew about the grenade eventually told his team leader, who then failed to inform his commanders until he was confronted the next day.

The operation commanded high-level interest because Norgrove, though in Afghanistan as an aid worker for DAI, an American NGO, secretly worked with Britain’s MI-6.


After a joint British-American investigation into the operation identified the failures and recommended that only the SEAL who threw the grenade be punished, McRaven personally traveled to Dam Neck and determined that all three SEALs involved in the cover-up should be thrown out of SEAL Team 6. The “admiral’s mast” was an unprecedented disciplinary action at the command, which had always been allowed to discipline itself. Normally, SEAL Team 6’s commanding officer, a captain, would conduct a captain’s mast, a form of non-judicial punishment. According to a senior JSOC official, the Norgrove operation was an “I told you so moment.” Even so, two of the three SEALs later returned to the unit.

In the world of SEAL Team 6, where operators never face criminal charges — despite allegations of war crimes, unjustified killings, and corruption — the admiral’s mast was a serious rebuke. One former SEAL leader who attended the proceeding told me McRaven’s message to the command’s leadership was clear. “What you’re saying is you have no faith in the commander,” he said. “All of us were upset.” The former SEAL Team 6 leader told me that for the unit’s operators, the greatest punishment was being kicked out of the unit in front of their peers.

McRaven, who did not respond to requests for comment, also held a meeting with a large group of senior officers under his command and said that SEAL Team 6 had effectively made lying to protect a teammate an honorable course of action, according to a person who attended the meeting. “He told us they had put unit and self before mission and country,” the retired officer said. “He reminded us all that our first loyalty was to the Constitution.”

Tactically, however, the command was winning on the battlefield, and despite McRaven’s directives, there was no serious internal scrutiny of the SEALs’ most excessive conduct.

“Several of us confronted the officers,” said one former noncommissioned officer who tried to stop the criminal behavior. “We knew what needed to be done to police the kids.” The former senior enlisted leader said he pressed several commanding officers to address what he believed were war crimes. “We failed to fix the problem,” he said. “It wasn’t complex, and had it been several one-off events, a guy chopping a head off — it wouldn’t be such a failure. But this started in 2002 and continued through the wars. Our leadership punted and I’m not sure it will ever be corrected.”

The failure of SEAL Team 6 to hold itself accountable for battlefield atrocities has resulted in lasting consequences for operators at the command. “No one prepared our guys for the collateral damage and the second- and third-order effects of this war,” the former SEAL leader said. “Night after night of kill or be killed. [There was] so much savagery. I’m not condoning the behavior — there’s no justification to hacking a body — but we didn’t prepare them either. If I told you I cut off a head after an operation, explaining that I got caught up in the moment, went over the line one time — you’d have sympathy for me. War is awful and it’s human to go too far, but this isn’t one time. This is multiple times on each deployment.”

5. THE PRESIDENT’S OWN

ALTHOUGH CANOEING AS a ritualized form of enemy mutilation ceased to be a widespread practice after McRaven’s clamp-down on the SEALs’ atrocities, it did not entirely cease. And though the gruesome and illegal practice has never been previously reported, at least one canoeing incident is quite well known, if hidden in plain sight.

By the time Robert O’Neill entered Osama bin Laden’s bedroom in the Abbottabad compound on May 2, 2011, the al Qaeda leader was bleeding out on the floor, possibly already dead, after being shot in the chest and leg by the lead assaulter on the raid. That operator, known as Red inside the unit, is still an active-duty member of SEAL Team 6 and has never been publicly identified. O’Neill entered the room, walked over to where bin Laden lay on the floor, and shot him twice in the face. He then stood above the now indisputably dead man and canoed him, firing a round into his forehead and splitting open the top of his skull, exposing his brain. Osama bin Laden had been branded by SEAL Team 6.

O’Neill has not been shy about the fact that he canoed bin Laden. “His forehead was gruesome,” he later told Esquire magazine. “It was split open in the shape of a V. I could see his brains spilling out over his face.” He has even alluded to the grisly practice on Twitter. What he has not done is name the practice or reveal that by canoeing bin Laden he had secured the ultimate war trophy, the culmination of a decade’s worth of bloody “sport” by elements of SEAL Team 6 who considered themselves craftsmen of killing.

The story of the bin Laden raid has been told and retold, but crucial details have never been made public. And from the moment President Obama announced the operation’s successful conclusion in a televised address, a variety of individuals and institutions have sought to profit from the elimination of America’s most hated enemy.

Two different SEALs, Robert O’Neill and Matthew Bissonnette, have publicly taken credit for killing bin Laden. According to multiple sources, both of their accounts contain multiple self-serving falsehoods. The texture of those accounts reveals much about what went wrong with the most celebrated special operations command in the U.S. military. The falsehoods, both significant and slight, demonstrate that even when conducting the most important missions, SEAL Team 6 was unable to rise above the culture of deceit, personal enrichment, and self-aggrandizement that has corrupted a fighting unit legendary for its discipline and code of honor.

“The beauty of what they have constructed,” said a former teammate about how Bissonnette and O’Neill cornered the market on the bin Laden raid, “is that there is only one guy, essentially, who can come forward and say they’re lying — and he won’t ever talk.”

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Top left: Navy SEAL Matt Bissonnette in 2001. Top right: Robert O’Neill with his tattoo of two bloody feathers, representing his kills. Bottom: Winkler hatchet from Bissonnette’s personal collection. Photos: U.S. Navy; U.S. Air Photo by Force Technical Sgt. Brian Snyder; Instagram

O’NEILL’S AND BISSONNETTE’S careers mirrored one another. They each entered Red Squadron at the same time, and were both recipients of the Winkler hatchets handed out by Wyman Howard. They were both talented and competitive, and they were determined to profit from their experiences as SEALs.

Bissonnette was viewed by Howard as the prototypical SEAL Team 6 operator: a college-educated enlisted man with a savvy understanding of tactics and technology. O’Neill, by contrast, was not considered as clever as his teammate, but he was a deadly sniper and had a successful tour as a team leader in Red Squadron.

Both men were notorious among their teammates for their self-promotional tendencies — a trait not well-suited for a “team-first” environment. In the end, their inclusion in the bin Laden raid and their roles defined where they fit in: Bissonnette worked closely with the CIA and SEAL Team 6 superiors during the planning phase to help plot out the assault, and would lead a team of operators to find and kill bin Laden’s courier. O’Neill was chosen as a team leader for a group providing external security but ultimately traded that leadership role for a junior spot on the team he and Bissonnette believed would get the first shot at bin Laden.

The 23 SEAL Team 6 operators assigned to the mission prepared constantly for the entire month of April 2011, practicing on two different full-scale mock-ups of the bin Laden compound. Tactically, there was little about the upcoming raid that was complex. Unlike the hundreds of other assaults SEAL Team 6 had carried out in Iraq and Afghanistan, in which the operators would plan and carry out a raid within a matter of hours, this time they had weeks to prepare. They had detailed plans of the Abbottabad compound provided by the CIA and knew where they could expect to find bin Laden. The SEALs’ biggest concern was how much time they would have, which was dictated by the amount of fuel the two Black Hawks could carry for the round trip.

The planning was so meticulous, one retired SEAL Team 6 leader told me, that a helicopter pilot warned mission planners that one of the two stealth Black Hawks they were to use would likely experience a “vortex ring state,” which means air disturbed by the rotors would prevent the helicopter from getting the lift necessary to continue hovering. The pilot noted that the two mock-up compounds had chain link fences around the buildings, allowing the air to disperse, while the real compound had thick concrete walls.

Less than a week before the assault, Bissonnette and O’Neill got into a shouting match at the Dam Neck base over who would sell the inside story of the raid. Several of their teammates on the mission had to intervene, according to a former SEAL Team 6 operator. A former SEAL Team 6 leader told me that O’Neill and Bissonnette originally agreed to cooperate on a book or movie project after the raid was over, but later had a falling out. The former SEAL leader said the extensive amount of training for the mission, combined with Bissonnette’s planning role, gave both men ample opportunity to find ways to put themselves on the third floor, in a good position to kill bin Laden.

Despite claims by John O. Brennan, President Obama’s chief counterterrorism adviser, that the raid was a capture or kill operation, the SEALs were told explicitly to kill bin Laden. There was no plan for capture, and no contingency for a surrender. “They were told, ‘Go in, kill him, and bring the body back,’” said a former SEAL Team 6 leader involved in the raid.

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In this May 5, 2011 file photo, local residents and media are seen outside the house where al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden was caught and killed in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Local residents say Pakistan has started to demolish the compound in the northwest city of Abbottabad where Osama bin Laden lived for years and was killed by U.S. commandos. Two residents say the government brought in three mechanized backhoes Saturday, Feb. 25, 2012, and began destroying the tall outer walls of the compound after sunset. They set up floodlights to carry out the work. (AP Photo/Aqeel Ahmed, File) Local residents and media on May 5, 2011, outside the compound where al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was killed in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Photo: Aqeel Ahmed/AP

ON MAY 1, two stealth Black Hawk helicopters took off from Jalalabad, Afghanistan, and headed east toward Abbottabad. The flight took 90 minutes, and as the Black Hawk Bissonnette rode in approached the compound walls, it effectively slammed on the brakes. The pilot who had warned that one of the helicopters would stall was right. Bissonnette’s helicopter crashed into bin Laden’s side yard. Bissonnette and his teammates were nearly killed, and many of the operators aboard ended up with chronic injuries.

Bissonnette and a small team of SEALs moved from the helicopter to a small building adjacent to bin Laden’s main house. After the SEALs tried blowing the building’s gated front door, someone inside fired several rounds out a window. They were the only shots not fired by the SEALs during the raid. One of Bissonnette’s teammates then put his gun through the front door, which was now slightly ajar, and shot the gunman in the head. He was Ahmed al Kuwaiti, one of bin Laden’s couriers.

Afterward, Kuwaiti’s wife confirmed that bin Laden could be found on the third floor of the main building, just as the team had been briefed. Bissonnette and his team then moved to the main house.

Once inside, the SEALs proceeded slowly and methodically. O’Neill’s teammates shot and killed Kuwaiti’s brother and his wife on the first floor. After blowing open the iron gate blocking the main stairway, the lead assaulters, among them Bissonnette and O’Neill, followed the operator known as Red up the stairs. Red encountered and shot bin Laden’s son just before the second floor landing, and the SEALs following behind him fanned out into the hallways and rooms on the second floor to search and secure the area. It was then that both Bissonnette and O’Neill hung back on the stairway. Both should have remained on the second floor. Instead, as Red began his ascent to the third floor, they followed him up, hoping to get in on the kill. O’Neill was closer to Red, one of the first five assaulters. Bissonnette was much farther back down the stairwell.

As he approached the third floor bedroom, Red saw bin Laden standing in the doorway, peering out. He was unarmed and wearing pajamas. A few of his female relatives were nearby. Red came to a stop and fired two shots with his suppressed rifle. One shot hit bin Laden in the chest and the second shot glanced off his hip or thigh as Bin Laden stumbled backward into his room and fell toward the foot of his bed.

Red could see bin Laden bleeding out from his chest wound but he still had not entered the bedroom.


Red watched bin Laden fall. He later told his teammates that it was possible one arm was twitching reflexively as he died, but otherwise he was effectively dead and not a threat. The distinction was crucial. As the lead assaulter, it was Red’s job to make the most important tactical judgments because he largely blocked the view of the SEALs behind him. According to several former members of SEAL Team 6, the most basic principle of assault training is “follow your shot,” meaning that an operator who has fired on a target must ensure the target no longer poses a threat. Your teammates beside and behind you will cover all the other possible angles and areas of a room as you move forward.

Red could see bin Laden bleeding out from his chest wound but he still had not entered the bedroom. Then, as two of bin Laden’s eldest daughters began to scream, Red quickly corralled them at the doorway, a move considered heroic by other SEALs on the mission. Had the daughters been wearing explosives, Red would have died while shielding his teammates from much of the blast. Instead, he held them back long enough for his teammates, including O’Neill, to enter the bedroom.

O’Neill and two or three more assaulters moved past Red into the bedroom as bin Laden lay on the ground. O’Neill then fired two rounds. According to his own description, the first two rounds hit bin Laden’s forehead. Then O’Neill canoed bin Laden with a final shot.


Conflicting accounts have emerged about how many other SEALs fired rounds into bin Laden’s lifeless body, though one former SEAL Team 6 leader who viewed the body in Jalalabad told me the body appeared to be intact aside from the chest wound and obliterated face.

The SEALs had been specifically asked to avoid shooting bin Laden in the face. O’Neill’s decision to canoe the al Qaeda leader made him unrecognizable.
A SEAL who spoke Arabic interviewed bin Laden’s wives and daughters until he was able to get two positive identifications. O’Neill later implied in the Esquire profile that he shot bin Laden because he wasn’t sure Red’s shots had hit the target. He also claimed that bin Laden had been standing when he fired and that a weapon was visible nearby. Yet immediately after the mission, O’Neill described shooting bin Laden while he was on the floor. The two weapons found on the third floor were not discovered until the rooms were searched. Neither was loaded.

O’Neill’s canoeing of bin Laden cost his teammates precious time, but his final shot to bin Laden’s head was unremarkable to them. They ransacked the compound for documents and media for intelligence, left the survivors inside, and returned to Jalalabad air base with the body.

THE RED SQUADRON assaulters later gathered in a private area of Bagram Air Base and debriefed the mission in front of a military lawyer. The squadron’s commanding officer recorded it on a cellphone. Bissonnette claimed he shot and killed al Kuwaiti and had fired bullets into bin Laden on the third floor. According to three sources familiar with the debrief, Bissonnette never fired his weapon at Kuwaiti. At least two of Bissonnette’s teammates who were with him when al Kuwaiti was killed were angry about the deception — taking credit for a teammate’s actions on a mission was unprecedented and dishonorable — but did not contradict him in the presence of a military lawyer. Several of Bissonnette’s teammates later informed their superiors that he had lied about his actions.

During the debrief, Red was identified as having hit bin Laden with a fatal shot, and O’Neill was credited with putting security rounds into him after bin Laden had already gone down. There was no discussion of a visible weapon, no claims that one of bin Laden’s wives had been used as a shield or a threat. The raid, several of the SEALs said afterward, was one of the easiest missions they’d ever conducted. There were no heroics, and, apart from al Kuwaiti’s shots, no firefight.

The SEALs in the unit were furious that the White House revealed to the world that Navy SEALs had carried out the raid, violating the traditional code of silence about their missions.


Some of the assaulters on the mission were also angry with Bissonnette and O’Neill because they neglected their responsibilities after bin Laden’s son was shot. Instead of helping search and secure the second floor, both headed to the third floor, hoping to get a chance for the historic kill. Both operators were accused of breaking with standard operating procedure to get themselves in position to be among the first to see or kill bin Laden. Morale at Red Squadron fell apart shortly after the team returned to Virginia Beach from Afghanistan. The SEALs in the unit were furious that the White House revealed to the world that Navy SEALs had carried out the raid, violating the traditional code of silence about their missions. Within hours, news trucks and reporters fanned out through the seaside town looking for anything affiliated with Navy SEALs.

O’Neill was soon removed from his role as a team leader in Red Squadron after he was observed publicly bragging in Virginia Beach bars that he was the man who shot bin Laden. Bissonnette left Red Squadron soon after the raid and retired from the Navy almost one year later. He had already set himself up for a profitable future. While on active duty, he’d formed a consulting company with four other SEALs and secured a contract with one of the command’s biggest equipment suppliers.

Bissonnette’s bestselling book, “No Easy Day,” was published in September 2012, four months after he retired and less than two weeks after O’Neill got out of the Navy. The publication came as a surprise to the Pentagon because Bissonnette had failed to clear it as required.


In the book, Bissonnette implies that he was directly behind Red just below the third floor when bin Laden was shot, and was one of the next two SEALs who entered bin Laden’s bedroom. His account credits Red with the shot that felled bin Laden and holds that he and a third SEAL — presumably O’Neill — fired several rounds into bin Laden as he was lying on the floor.

After the raid, the White House struggled to describe the exact circumstances of bin Laden’s death. First, bin Laden was armed, involved in a firefight, and using one of his wives as a human shield. Then officials took all three of those details back, though they maintained the al Qaeda leader posed a threat. Bissonnette’s book was the first eyewitness account, and it contradicted the Obama administration’s narrative.

After the publication of “No Easy Day” — which in one chapter describes in great detail the specialized gear, along with brand names, Bissonnette wore on the bin Laden mission — the Navy opened several inquiries into Bissonnette’s outside business contracts. They soon discovered he had violated a series of Navy regulations. A joint NCIS-FBI investigation into whether he disclosed classified material in the book lasted two years. During the investigation, Bissonnette surrendered a photo of bin Laden’s dead body that he had unlawfully retained.

Bissonnette eventually settled his legal case with the government, agreeing to return $6.7 million in profits from the sale of “No Easy Day” and giving up any proceeds from future sales of the book.

Other active-duty SEAL Team 6 operators who worked with Bissonnette on his various consulting deals were punished as a result of their profiteering. The unit conducted a captain’s mast on at least seven SEALs for revealing sensitive information during a series of promotional videos for the video game “Medal of Honor: Warfighter.” The reprimand ended the careers of two veteran SEAL Team 6 noncommissioned officers.

Although Bissonnette was able to sell a book and tell his story first, O’Neill arguably got the better deal. In March 2013, Esquire’s profile of O’Neill portrayed him as a humble “quiet professional” who after 16 years in the Navy would no longer have health insurance and was otherwise a downtrodden American hero. The account did not dwell on the fact that O’Neill had chosen to separate from the Navy nearly four years before he was eligible for extensive retirement benefits.

In O’Neill’s account, he did not see Red fire his shots at bin Laden because he was looking back down the stairs for reinforcements. When he finally entered the bedroom, alone, bin Laden was standing uninjured, a weapon nearby, his wife in front of him like a human shield. Only inches from his target, O’Neill claims, he shot bin Laden twice in the forehead. Bin Laden dropped and O’Neill fired the security round that canoed him.

Some of O’Neill’s teammates were outraged he’d been so brazenly inaccurate and self-serving in his account. For many on the raid, including those who had been present in bin Laden’s bedroom with O’Neill, it was the first time they’d heard anyone in the command say the terrorist leader was standing, posing a threat of any kind.

In 2014, O’Neill unveiled himself as the man who killed bin Laden in an hourlong Fox News special, just as Bissonnette published a second book. The former teammates both hit the press circuit, each telling reporters off the record that the other was a liar. Already a popular motivational speaker, O’Neill now charges up to $35,000 per speech. Today, he is a paid on-air commentator for Fox News and is reportedly eyeing a run for the Senate in his native Montana. He even has his own line of clothing.

Both Bissonnette and O’Neill declined to answer questions for this article.

The truth about what happened in bin Laden’s bedroom may never be fully known. One former SEAL Team 6 leader who was involved in the raid told me he was never too concerned about the discrepancies between O’Neill’s and Bissonnette’s claims. A veteran of hundreds of raids and assaults during his career, the former SEAL said he disagreed with the order to kill bin Laden, regardless of whether he was armed, and compared it to Britt Slabinski’s order to his Blue Squadron men in 2007. “I didn’t give their different accounts much thought,” the SEAL said. “They shot an unarmed dude. It was disappointing. I’d almost wish they’d beaten him to death. That seems more fair.” And here were two guys who set out to make money off a mission that required 23 SEALs to pull off: “It’s dishonorable.”

Bissonnette and O’Neill are no longer welcome at SEAL Team 6 headquarters. The command’s top noncommissioned officer placed their names on the SEAL Team 6 rock of shame, the unofficial list of unit pariahs. The list also includes Britt Slabinski, who was blacklisted in 2015 following the New York Times article that quoted him denying he’d ever ordered his men to kill unarmed Afghan targets. “That’s what’s wrong with my community,” the former SEAL Team 6 leader told me. “Our sense of what’s right and what’s wrong is warped. No one was upset that he ordered a beheading or all the men shot even if they were unarmed. They were mad because he spoke to the New York Times and lied.”

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SEAL Team 6 headquarters at Dam Neck naval annex, Virginia Beach, Va., showing the 30-foot trident sculpted from a fragment of the World Trade Center. Photo: Google

SEVERAL MONTHS AFTER the bin Laden raid, in October 2011, SEAL Team 6 held its annual “stump muster,” a reunion of current command members and their families, as well as past leaders and senior operators. That year’s reunion, the first under Wyman Howard as commanding officer, was held at their new headquarters, a $100 million, state of the art testament to the stature of the command as the home of the “President’s Own,” the clandestine global force capable of striking anywhere, killing anyone, the tip of America’s military spear. Outside the main entrance stands a 30-foot trident sculpted out of a fragment of the World Trade Center.

At the reunion, a few hundred yards from the Atlantic Ocean, a small group of current and former master chiefs stood around drinking and telling war stories. One retired senior SEAL Team 6 leader was there who led the unit during the early years of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Over the years, he had worried about battlefield discipline and retaliation after Neil Roberts had been nearly beheaded, and he had feared his men would seek retribution in Iraq during the height of the violence there. He’d left the SEALs before the worst of the atrocities had taken place, though his former teammates would occasionally call him to report what was happening on deployments. He’d been told that Blue Squadron had collected ears and that mutilations had become common. He wasn’t surprised. After more than 30 years in special operations, he knew that elite forces would inevitably cross ethical, moral, and legal boundaries if they were given too long a leash. When he first arrived at Dam Neck, operators in the unit who had served in Vietnam warned him that war crimes and battlefield atrocities hung like a cloud over the entire unit — even if only one SEAL had participated.

Sitting with old friends, the retired SEAL was handed a ring-bound portfolio. Opening it up, he saw a collection of photographs, more than a dozen canoed enemy heads. He was told that the photographs were part of SEAL Team 6’s “greatest hits” of terrorists killed since 9/11. They were not the private collection of some individual operator, but the command’s official after-action pictures. The old sailor put the portfolio down. After a short while, he quietly left the base. He hasn’t returned since.

Illustrations: Attila Futaki, Colorist: Greg Guilhaumond
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Re: Mrs. Kay Griggs on How the Government Works

Postby admin » Wed Jan 10, 2018 7:19 am

Trump's Pick for Interior Secretary Was Caught In "Pattern of Fraud" At Seal Team 6
by Matthew Cole
December 20 2016, 10:04 a.m.

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A MONTANA LAWMAKER tapped by President-elect Donald Trump to be secretary of the interior committed travel fraud when he was a member of the elite Navy SEAL Team 6, according to three former unit leaders and a military consultant.

In announcing the nomination of Republican Rep. Ryan Zinke, a retired Navy SEAL commander, Trump praised his military background. “As a former Navy SEAL, he has incredible leadership skills and an attitude of doing whatever it takes to win,” Trump said last week.

But when Zinke was a mid-career officer at SEAL Team 6, he was caught traveling multiple times to Montana in 1998 and 1999 to renovate his home. Zinke claimed that the travel was for official duties, according to the sources.

He submitted travel vouchers and was compensated for the travel costs.

Two SEAL officers investigated Zinke’s records and discovered a yearslong “pattern of travel fraud,” according to two of the sources. When confronted about the trips, Zinke acknowledged that he spent the time repairing and restoring a home in Whitefish, Montana, and visiting his mother, according to two retired SEAL Team 6 leaders. The future lawmaker eventually told SEAL leaders that the Montana house was where he intended to live after he retired from the Navy.

After Zinke was caught and warned, he continued to travel home and submit the expenses to the Navy. The offense would normally have been serious enough to have ended Zinke’s career, but senior officers at SEAL Team 6 did not formally punish him. Zinke could have been referred for criminal charges, or subjected to a nonjudicial proceeding that would have censured him, likely removing him from the unit. Neither of those things happened, and he was allowed to finish his assignment at the elite unit.

While he received no formal punishment, he was told he would not be allowed to return to the elite unit for future assignments, according to the sources. Zinke continued his career, and he was eventually promoted to Navy commander, the rank he retired at in 2008.

A retired SEAL Team 6 leader said that Zinke wasn’t punished because of concerns over the impact on his family if he was pushed out of the Navy or had his rank reduced.

According to a former SEAL Team 6 leader, the officer who submitted evidence documenting Zinke’s misconduct was “incensed” that he wasn’t punished. Three of the sources said the lack of formal punishment was part of a tradition at SEAL Team 6 of avoiding scandal and failing to adequately hold its officers accountable for criminal behavior and other misconduct.

Zinke was elected to Congress in 2014 as a Republican and was expected to challenge Montana’s democratic senator in 2018.

He has spoken publicly about his career, including in a book published last month about his time in the Navy SEALs. The book details his deployments to Bosnia in the late 1990s as part of SEAL Team 6, but does not mention the misconduct that led to his leaving the unit.

Neither Zinke nor the Trump transition team responded to a request for comment.

Update: Dec. 20, 2016

During his 2014 campaign for Congress, Zinke released his military records, which detail two incidents of unapproved travel to Montana. The June 14, 1999 evaluation cited “lapses in judgement” for travel. Zinke told the Missoulian newspaper that the two trips were taken to scout for possible training locations, and that he was ordered to repay $211 for a flight from Virginia to Montana. Zinke defended his travel to Montana as legitimate, but told the newspaper he was “a little aggressive for a junior officer.”

According to three sources familiar with Zinke’s record at SEAL Team 6, the training research was the excuse he used for the travel, but later admitted to senior SEAL officers that he had, in fact, gone to restore his home. Those same sources said there were more than the two occasions cited in his records, and that SEAL Team 6 officers documented multiple incidents involving fraudulent travel.

All of the sources quoted by The Intercept asked for anonymity because nearly every facet of SEAL Team 6 is classified.

Top photo: Rep. Ryan Zinke discusses leadership and Syrian refugees during a U.S. House debate in Petro Hall at Montana State University on Sept. 1, 2016.
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Re: Mrs. Kay Griggs on How the Government Works

Postby admin » Wed Jan 10, 2018 7:38 am

Inside SEAL Team 6
by New York Times
June 6, 2015

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Officially, SEAL Team 6 does not exist. It operates under the cover name “Naval Special Warfare Development Group.” The unit performs some of the military’s most dangerous missions, the operations considered too risky for conventional troops.

Read the New York Times investigation of SEAL Team 6.

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Insignia from SEAL Team 6 squadrons. Credit Guilbert Gates/The New York Times

Identity

After competing for slots in a winnowing process known as “Green Team,” elite operators from the regular SEAL teams are chosen for squadrons in a sports-style draft.

Each of the four assault squadrons has its own identity, insignia, and (for many SEALs) the tattoos that follow. Blue Squadron members identify as pirates; Gold Squadron uses knights or crusaders. Red Squadron employs a Native American warrior as its emblem, often referring to members as the tribe or redmen. Silver Squadron, which formed around 2008 from members pulled from the other teams, uses imagery from the other three assault squadrons.

Gray Squadron, known as the vikings, is trained to drive the custom vehicles used by Team 6: the boats known as high-speed assault craft and the Pandur armored vehicles. Its members are also trained to drop the boats with parachutes from the backs of cargo planes, as in the rescue of Richard Phillips, the American captain of a cargo ship, from Somali pirates.

Black Squadron, once SEAL Team 6’s sniper unit, has taken the lead on intelligence gathering since the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. They conduct advance force operations and work on reconnaissance, surveillance and espionage, often far from declared war zones. Unlike the assault squadrons, Black Squadron includes women.

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The compound where Osama Bin Laden was killed by SEAL Team 6 in May 2011 in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Credit Warrick Page for The New York Times

Missions

Team 6 was created for “no-fail” missions.

Hostage Rescue

To free two aid workers, Jessica Buchanan and Poul Hagen Thisted, in 2012, SEAL Team 6 operators landed in Somalia following a high-altitude freefall parachute jump, sneaked up on the captors in the dark and shot them.

Assault on Compound

Helicopters brought the SEALs to Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan under cover of darkness. The SEALs forced their way in with explosive charges, then went room to room until they found and killed Bin Laden.

Hunting Militants

In the Somali desert in 2009, four helicopters, two of which were carrying SEAL Team 6 operators, intercepted a truck carrying the Qaeda militant leader Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan. One of the helicopters opened fire with its machine gun, killing Nabhan and the other occupants. The Team 6 operators landed to collect the bodies, phones and other intelligence.

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A SEAL night mission in Iraq in 2003. Credit Stephanie Freid-Perenchio

Training

To prepare for high-risk missions, SEALs must execute training maneuvers perfectly.

In “kill house” training, also known as close-quarters combat, Team 6 candidates must demonstrate flawless skills in entering buildings and killing enemy fighters inside. The SEALs start with pistols and move up to automatic weapons; a single accidental shot can cost a SEAL a chance to join Team 6.

In assault training, Team 6 candidates perform an entire mission, including the planning, navigation and entry and exit strategies. The team’s equipment and weapons are top-shelf and most are customized, even the vehicles. All weapons have suppressors, and most of the missions are at night.

Even when they are not deployed, Team 6 members are often on the road. The SEALs train for cold-weather missions in Alaska, practice freefall parachuting in Arizona, hone their diving skills in Florida and work on urban tactics in downtown buildings, even empty football stadiums.

In training for a ship assault, called an “underway,” SEALs practice attacking ships that have been commandeered by hijackers. Team 6 candidates approach with high-speed boats, exposed to repeated battering from G-forces that doctors say can cause brain injury. They must climb aboard the moving ship on flexible ladders and fight their way through the ship to rescue hostages.

The SEALs must perfect difficult skydiving exercises. In HALO jumps (high altitude, low opening) they freefall dangerously close to the ground before opening their parachutes. In HAHO jumps (high altitude, high opening) they open their parachutes early and navigate with GPS devices, watches with built-in altimeters and compasses to precise landing points.

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The burial site at Arlington National Cemetery for the remains of the SEAL Team 6 members and others who were killed when a helicopter with the call sign Extortion 17 was shot down in 2011 in Afghanistan. Credit Gabriella Demczuk for The New York Times

Danger

Training can be fatal but combat brings the highest death tolls.

SEAL Team 6 members have drowned during training and died in parachuting accidents while preparing for missions. Some SEALs deal with broken bones, busted joints and brain lesions caused by exposure to blasts or other trauma. Chronic pain is part of the job.

In Iraq and Afghanistan, SEALs encountered homemade bombs and suffered gunshot wounds fighting their way through compounds. Choosing speed over safety, some operators left the heavy plates out of their bulletproof vests and were shot and killed.

The costliest day in SEAL Team 6 history was Aug. 6, 2011, when a Chinook helicopter with the call sign Extortion 17 was shot down in Afghanistan, killing all 38 people on board, including 15 SEALs from Team 6’s Gold Squadron, two of the squadron’s bomb-disposal technicians, as well as regular SEALs, pilots and others.
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Re: Mrs. Kay Griggs on How the Government Works

Postby admin » Wed Jan 10, 2018 7:51 am

Part 1 of 2

SEAL Team 6: A Secret History of Quiet Killings and Blurred Lines
The unit best known for killing Osama bin Laden has been converted into a global manhunting machine with limited outside oversight.

by Mark Mazzetti, Nicholas Kulish, Christopher Drew, Serge F. Kovaleski, Sean D. Naylor and John Ismay
New York Times
June 6, 2015

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Members of SEAL Team 6 and other units parachute from a plane near the frigate U.S.S. Halyburton, in the Indian Ocean, to start the rescue of Captain Richard Phillips.

They have plotted deadly missions from secret bases in the badlands of Somalia. In Afghanistan, they have engaged in combat so intimate that they have emerged soaked in blood that was not their own. On clandestine raids in the dead of the night, their weapons of choice have ranged from customized carbines to primeval tomahawks.

Around the world, they have run spying stations disguised as commercial boats, posed as civilian employees of front companies and operated undercover at embassies as male-female pairs, tracking those the United States wants to kill or capture.

Those operations are part of the hidden history of the Navy’s SEAL Team 6, one of the nation’s most mythologized, most secretive and least scrutinized military organizations. Once a small group reserved for specialized but rare missions, the unit best known for killing Osama bin Laden has been transformed by more than a decade of combat into a global manhunting machine.

That role reflects America’s new way of war, in which conflict is distinguished not by battlefield wins and losses, but by the relentless killing of suspected militants.

Almost everything about SEAL Team 6, a classified Special Operations unit, is shrouded in secrecy — the Pentagon does not even publicly acknowledge that name — though some of its exploits have emerged in largely admiring accounts in recent years. But an examination of Team 6’s evolution, drawn from dozens of interviews with current and former team members, other military officials and reviews of government documents, reveals a far more complex, provocative tale.

While fighting grinding wars of attrition in Afghanistan and Iraq, Team 6 performed missions elsewhere that blurred the traditional lines between soldier and spy. The team’s sniper unit was remade to carry out clandestine intelligence operations, and the SEALs joined Central Intelligence Agency operatives in an initiative called the Omega Program, which offered greater latitude in hunting adversaries.

Team 6 has successfully carried out thousands of dangerous raids that military leaders credit with weakening militant networks, but its activities have also spurred recurring concerns about excessive killing and civilian deaths.

Afghan villagers and a British commander accused SEALs of indiscriminately killing men in one hamlet; in 2009, team members joined C.I.A. and Afghan paramilitary forces in a raid that left a group of youths dead and inflamed tensions between Afghan and NATO officials. Even an American hostage freed in a dramatic rescue has questioned why the SEALs killed all his captors.

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Navy SEAL operators awaited a night mission to capture insurgent leaders near Falluja, Iraq, in July 2007. Credit John Moore/Getty Images

When suspicions have been raised about misconduct, outside oversight has been limited. Joint Special Operations Command, which oversees SEAL Team 6 missions, conducted its own inquiries into more than a half-dozen episodes, but seldom referred them to Navy investigators. “JSOC investigates JSOC, and that’s part of the problem,” said one former senior military officer experienced in special operations, who like many others interviewed for this article spoke on the condition of anonymity because Team 6’s activities are classified.

Even the military’s civilian overseers do not regularly examine the unit’s operations. “This is an area where Congress notoriously doesn’t want to know too much,” said Harold Koh, the State Department’s former top legal adviser, who provided guidance to the Obama administration on clandestine war.

Waves of money have sluiced through SEAL Team 6 since 2001, allowing it to significantly expand its ranks — reaching roughly 300 assault troops, called operators, and 1,500 support personnel — to meet new demands. But some team members question whether the relentless pace of operations has eroded the unit’s elite culture and worn down Team 6 on combat missions of little importance. The group was sent to Afghanistan to hunt Qaeda leaders, but instead spent years conducting close-in battle against mid- to low-level Taliban and other enemy fighters. Team 6 members, one former operator said, served as “utility infielders with guns.”

The cost was high: More members of the unit have died over the past 14 years than in all its previous history. Repeated assaults, parachute jumps, rugged climbs and blasts from explosives have left many battered, physically and mentally.

“War is not this pretty thing that the United States has come to believe it to be,” said Britt Slabinski, a retired senior enlisted member of Team 6 and veteran of combat in Afghanistan and Iraq. “It’s emotional, one human being killing another human being for extended periods of time. It’s going to bring out the worst in you. It’s also going to bring out the best in you.”

Team 6 and its Army counterpart, Delta Force, have delivered intrepid performances that have drawn the nation’s two most recent presidents to deploy them to an expanding list of far-off trouble spots. They include Syria and Iraq, now under threat from the Islamic State, and Afghanistan, Somalia and Yemen, mired in continuing chaos.

Like the C.I.A.’s campaign of drone strikes, Special Operations missions offer policy makers an alternative to costly wars of occupation. But the bulwark of secrecy around Team 6 makes it impossible to fully assess its record and the consequences of its actions, including civilian casualties or the deep resentment inside the countries where its members operate. The missions have become embedded in American combat with little public discussion or debate.

Former Senator Bob Kerrey, a Nebraska Democrat and a member of the SEALs during the Vietnam War, cautioned that Team 6 and other Special Operations forces had been overused. “They have become sort of a 1-800 number anytime somebody wants something done,” he said. But relying on them so much, he added, is inevitable whenever American leaders are faced with “one of those situations where the choice you have is between a horrible choice and a bad choice, one of those cases where you have no option.”

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SEAL Team 6’s headquarters are just south of Virginia Beach, in an area closed off to the public. Credit Travis Dove for The New York Times

While declining to comment specifically on SEAL Team 6, the United States Special Operations Command said that since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, its forces “have been involved in tens of thousands of missions and operations in multiple geographic theaters, and consistently uphold the highest standards required of the U.S. Armed Forces.”

The command said its operators are trained to operate in complex and fast-moving environments and it trusts them to conduct themselves appropriately. “All allegations of misconduct are taken seriously,” the statement said, adding: “Substantiated findings are dealt with by military or law enforcement authorities.”

The unit’s advocates express no doubts about the value of such invisible warriors. “If you want these forces to do things that occasionally bend the rules of international law,” said James G. Stavridis, a retired admiral and former Supreme Allied Commander at NATO, referring to going into undeclared war zones, “you certainly don’t want that out in public.” Team 6, he added, “should continue to operate in the shadows.”

But others warn of the seduction of an endless campaign of secret missions, far from public view. “If you’re unacknowledged on the battlefield,” said William C. Banks, an expert on national security law at Syracuse University, “you’re not accountable.”

FIGHTING UP CLOSE

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Petty Officer First Class Neil C. Roberts.

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By The New York Times

During a chaotic battle in March 2002 on the Takur Ghar mountaintop close to the Pakistan border, Petty Officer First Class Neil C. Roberts, an assault specialist in SEAL Team 6, fell from a helicopter onto terrain held by Qaeda forces.

Enemy fighters killed him before American troops were able to get there, mutilating his body in the snow.

It was SEAL Team 6’s first major battle in Afghanistan, and he was the first member to die. The manner in which he was killed sent shudders through the tight-knit community. America’s new war would be up close and ugly. At times, the troops carried out the grisliest of tasks: cutting off fingers or small patches of scalp for DNA analysis from militants they had just killed.

By 2007, the command’s leadership was aware that some Blue Squadron operators were using specialized knives to conduct “skinnings.” Using the excuse of collecting DNA, which required a small piece of skin containing hair follicles, operators were taking large strips of skin from dead enemy fighters.

-- The Crimes of Seal Team 6, by Matthew Cole


After the March 2002 campaign, most of Osama bin Laden’s fighters fled into Pakistan, and Team 6 would rarely fight another sustained, pitched battle against the terrorist network in Afghanistan. The enemy they had been sent to take on had largely disappeared.

At the time, the team was prohibited from hunting Taliban fighters and also blocked from chasing any Qaeda operatives into Pakistan, out of concern about alienating the Pakistani government. Mostly confined to the Bagram Air Base outside Kabul, the SEALs were frustrated. The C.I.A., though, was under no similar restrictions, and Team 6 members eventually began working with the spy agency and operated under its broader combat authorities, according to former military and intelligence officials.

The missions, part of the Omega Program, allowed the SEALs to conduct “deniable operations” against the Taliban and other militants in Pakistan. Omega was modeled after the Vietnam-era Phoenix Program, when C.I.A. officers and Special Operations troops conducted interrogations and assassinations to try to dismantle the Vietcong’s guerrilla networks in South Vietnam.

But an extensive campaign of lethal operations in Pakistan was considered too risky, the officials said, so the Omega Program primarily focused on using Afghan Pashtuns to run spying missions into the Pakistani tribal areas, as well as working with C.I.A.-trained Afghan militias during night raids in Afghanistan. A C.I.A. spokesman declined to comment for this article.

The escalating conflict in Iraq was drawing most of the Pentagon’s attention and required a steady buildup of troops, including deployments by SEAL Team 6 members. With the relatively small American military footprint in Afghanistan, Taliban forces began to regroup. Alarmed, Lt. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who was leading Joint Special Operations Command, in 2006 ordered the SEALs and other troops to take on a more expansive task in Afghanistan: Beat back the Taliban.

That order led to years of nightly raids or fights by Team 6, which was designated the lead Special Operations force during some of the most violent years in what became America’s longest war. A secret unit that was created to carry out the nation’s riskiest operations would instead be engaged in dangerous but increasingly routine combat.

The surge in operations started during that summer when Team 6 operators and Army Rangers began to hunt down midlevel Taliban figures in hopes of finding leaders of the group in Kandahar Province, the Taliban heartland. The SEALs used techniques developed with Delta Force in kill-and-capture campaigns in Iraq. The logic behind the manhunts was that intelligence gathered from a militant safe house, along with that collected by the C.I.A. and the National Security Agency, could lead to a bomb maker’s workshop and eventually to the door of an insurgent commander.

Special Operations troops struck a seemingly endless succession of targets. No figures are publicly available that break out the number of raids that Team 6 carried out in Afghanistan or their toll. Military officials say that no shots were fired on most raids. But between 2006 and 2008, Team 6 operators said, there were intense periods in which for weeks at a time their unit logged 10 to 15 kills on many nights, and sometimes up to 25.

The accelerated pace caused “guys to become fierce,” said a former Team 6 officer. “These killing fests had become routine.”

Special Operations commanders say the raids helped unravel Taliban networks. But some Team 6 members came to doubt that they were making much of a difference. One former senior enlisted SEAL member, pressed for details about one mission, said, “It became so many of these targets, it was just another name.”

“Whether they were facilitators, Taliban subcommanders, Taliban commanders, financiers, it no longer became important,” he added.

Another former Team 6 member, an officer, was even more dismissive of some of the operations. “By 2010, guys were going after street thugs,” he said. “The most highly trained force in the world, chasing after street thugs.”


The unit pushed to make its operations faster, quieter and deadlier, and benefited from a ballooning budget and from advances in technology since 2001. Team 6’s bland cover name — the Naval Special Warfare Development Group — is a nod to its official mission of developing new equipment and tactics for the broader SEAL organization, which also includes nine unclassified teams.

The SEALs’ armorers customized a new German-made rifle and equipped nearly every weapon with suppressors, which reduce gunshot sounds and muzzle flashes. Infrared lasers enabling the SEALs to shoot more accurately at night became standard issue, as did thermal optics to detect body heat. The SEALs were equipped with a new generation of grenade — a thermobaric model that is particularly effective in making buildings collapse. They often operated in larger groups than they had traditionally done. More SEALs carrying deadlier weapons meant that fewer enemies escaped alive.

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A Heckler & Koch MP7 firearm, top, fitted with a suppressor to reduce muzzle flashes and sounds, and an MP5, a submachine gun widely used by law enforcement officers. In the American military, the MP7 is used only by Delta Force and SEAL Team 6. Some police SWAT teams have also bought it. Credit Doug Mills/The New York Times

Some Team 6 assault troops also used tomahawks crafted by Daniel Winkler, a knife maker in North Carolina who forged blades for the film “The Last of the Mohicans.” During one period, members of Team 6’s Red Squadron — its logo shows crossed tomahawks below the face of a Native American warrior — received a Winkler hatchet after their first year in the squadron, according to two members. In an interview, Mr. Winkler declined to discuss which SEAL units had received his tomahawks, but did say many were paid for by private donors.

The weapons were not just wall ornaments. Several former Team 6 members said that some men carried the hatchets on missions, and at least one killed an enemy fighter with the weapon. Dom Raso, a former Team 6 member who left the Navy in 2012, said that hatchets were used “for breaching, getting into doors, manipulating small locks, hand-to-hand combat and other things.” He added that hatchet and blade kills occurred during his time with the SEALs.

During one Iraq deployment, Howard returned from a raid to an operations center with blood on his hatchet and his uniform. Back at the base, he gave a speech to a group of analysts and nonoperational officers in which he told them that his bloody appearance was a demonstration of how a battlefield commander should lead. One operator, who confirmed Howard’s remarks, added his own: “That’s the business we’re in.”

-- The Crimes of Seal Team 6, by Matthew Cole


“Whatever tool you need to protect yourself and your brothers, whether it is a blade or a gun, you are going to use,” said Mr. Raso, who has worked with Mr. Winkler in producing a blade.

Many SEAL operators rejected any use of tomahawks — saying they were too bulky to take into combat and not as effective as firearms — even as they acknowledged the messiness of warfare.

“It’s a dirty business,” said one former senior enlisted Team 6 member. “What’s the difference between shooting them as I was told and pulling out a knife and stabbing them or hatcheting them?”

THE CULTURE

SEAL Team 6’s fenced-off headquarters at the Dam Neck Annex of the Oceana Naval Air Station, just south of Virginia Beach, houses a secretive military within the military. Far removed from the public eye, the base is home not just to the team’s 300 enlisted operators (they disdain the term “commandos”), their officers and commanders, but also to its pilots, Seabee builders, bomb disposal technicians, engineers, medical crews and an intelligence unit equipped with sophisticated surveillance and global tracking technology.

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SEAL Team 6 headquarters in Virginia. By The New York Times | Images from U.S.D.A. and Google Earth.

The Navy SEALs — the acronym stands for Sea, Air, Land forces — evolved from the frogmen of World War II. Team 6 arose decades later, born out of the failed 1980 mission to rescue 53 American hostages seized in the takeover of the United States Embassy in Tehran. Poor planning and bad weather forced commanders to abort the mission, and eight servicemen died when two aircraft collided over the Iranian desert.

The Navy then asked Cmdr. Richard Marcinko, a hard-charging Vietnam veteran, to build a SEAL unit that could respond quickly to terrorist crises. The name itself was an attempt at Cold War disinformation: Only two SEAL teams existed at the time, but Commander Marcinko called the unit SEAL Team 6 hoping that Soviet analysts would overestimate the size of the force.

He flouted rules and fostered a maverick image for the unit. (Years after leaving the command, he was convicted of military contract fraud.) In his autobiography, “Rogue Warrior,” Commander Marcinko describes drinking together as important to SEAL Team 6’s solidarity; his recruiting interviews often amounted to boozy chats in a bar.

Inside Team 6, there were initially two assault groups, called Blue and Gold, after the Navy colors. Blue used the Jolly Roger pirate flag as its insignia and early on earned the nickname “the Bad Boys in Blue,” for racking up drunken driving arrests, abusing narcotics and crashing rental cars on training exercises with near impunity.

Young officers sometimes were run out of Team 6 for trying to clean up what they perceived as a culture of recklessness. Adm. William H. McRaven, who rose to head the Special Operations Command and oversaw the Bin Laden raid, was pushed out of Team 6 and assigned to another SEAL team during the Marcinko era after complaining of difficulties in keeping his troops in line.

Ryan Zinke, a former Team 6 officer and now a Republican congressman from Montana, recalled an episode after a team training mission aboard a cruise liner in preparation for potential hostage rescues at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain. Mr. Zinke escorted an admiral to a bar in the ship’s lower level. “When we opened the door, it reminded me of ‘Pirates of the Caribbean,’” Mr. Zinke said, recalling that the admiral was appalled by the operators’ long hair, beards and earrings. “My Navy?” the admiral asked him. “These guys are in my Navy?”

Some critics in the military complained that SEAL Team 6 — with their full beards and arms, legs, and torsos covered in tattoos — looked like members of a biker gang. Questions about battlefield atrocities persisted, though some excused these actions in the name of psychological warfare against the enemy.

-- The Crimes of Seal Team 6, by Matthew Cole


That was the beginning of what Mr. Zinke referred to as “the great bloodletting,” when the Navy purged Team 6’s leadership to professionalize the force. Current and former Team 6 operators said the culture was different today. Members now tend to be better educated, more athletic, older and more mature — though some are still known for pushing limits.

Inside a heated tent, as many as 40 SEAL Team 6 operators asked themselves how they wanted to treat their fallen enemies. Should they seek revenge for Roberts? Was it acceptable, as Hyder had done with the wounded man whom he executed, to desecrate the dead?

“We talked about it … and 35 guys nodded their heads saying this is not who we are. We shoot ’em. No issues with that. And then we move on,” said a former SEAL who was present at the meeting. “There’s honor involved and Vic Hyder obviously traipsed all over that,” he said. “Mutilation isn’t part of the game.”

Nonetheless, Red Team did not report Hyder’s alleged battlefield mutilation, a war crime. In what would become part of a pattern of secrecy and silence, the SEAL operators dealt with the issue on their own and kept the incident from their chain of command....

Hyder finished his tour at SEAL Team 6 shortly after returning from the Afghanistan deployment and was later promoted to the rank of commander, the Navy equivalent of a lieutenant colonel. He was awarded the Silver Star for his efforts at Takur Ghar to save Roberts and the rest of the Red Team recon element....

After Roberts’s death, Slabinksi wanted revenge......

The SEALs killed nearly 20 foreign al Qaeda fighters, some of whom carried U.S. military equipment taken from Takur Ghar. Slabinski told MacPherson that Wolverine had been “really good payback.”

“Just a phenomenal, phenomenal day. We just slaughtered those dudes.” After describing one particular fighter who from a distance had resembled Osama bin Laden, Slabinksi continued: “To this day, we’ve never had anything as good as that. Oh my gosh. We needed that … there was not a better group of people to go and do that. The guys needed that to get back in the saddle because everyone was gun shy.”

“I mean, talk about the funny stuff we do. After I shot this dude in the head, there was a guy who had his feet, just his feet, sticking out of some little rut or something over here. I mean, he was dead, but people have got nerves. I shot him about 20 times in the legs, and every time you’d kick him, er, shoot him, he would kick up, you could see his body twitching and all that. It was like a game. Like, ‘hey look at this dude,’ and the guy would just twitch again. It was just good therapy. It was really good therapy for everybody who was there.”...

Slabinski returned to the SEAL Team 6 base at Dam Neck. He was awarded a Navy Cross, the second highest battlefield award for heroism....

IN 2010, WHEN Slabinski was up for a promotion at the command, SEAL Team 6 leaders conducted two internal inquiries before making a decision. Almost immediately, the issue that received the most scrutiny was the December 2007 attempted beheading. According to two former SEALs, Slabinski told his teammates and superiors that his remark about wanting a head was figurative and not a literal order. By then, there was no question about whether the attempted beheading had occurred; the question was why.

“We didn’t debate whether Slab had told his guys he wanted a head on a platter — he copped to that. The only issue was, was his order real, or just talk?” said one of the retired SEALs involved. “It didn’t make a difference. He said it and one of his operators did it because he believed he was following an order.”

Ten officers and master chiefs voted unanimously against allowing Slabinski to return to the command. At that point, the second inquiry was commissioned by the SEAL Team 6 commanding officer, Pete Van Hooser. Evidence was presented that Slabinski gave an order to shoot all the men they encountered during another raid, whether or not they were armed. According to the New York Times, Afghans accused Blue Squadron of killing civilians during that operation, but a subsequent military investigation determined that all those killed had been armed and hostile. When Slabinski was confronted by the command’s senior enlisted leader about whether he had instructed Blue Squadron operators to kill all males during the operation, code-named Pantera, Slabinski acknowledged that he had done so. The second inquiry also uncovered the “head on a platter” remark as the instigation for the beheading in December 2007, but the command’s senior enlisted leader told Slabinski he would not get the promotion or be allowed to serve at the command again because of the Pantera order. Overall, it had become clear that Slabinski’s run as a leader on the battlefield caused Blue Squadron to come “off the rails,” according to a former SEAL Team 6 leader.

Slabinski has not responded to multiple queries and requests for comment, though he did deny to the New York Times in 2015 that he gave the illegal pre-mission guidance to kill all males. In his interview with the Times, Slabinski asserted that it was he who had witnessed the operator slashing at the dead fighter’s throat, saying, “It appeared he was mutilating a body.” Slabinski portrayed himself as trying to police his men and said that he gave them “a very stern speech.” He claimed to the Times that he told his men, “If any of you feel a need to do any retribution, you should call me.” Slabinski says nothing in the Times story about Vasely ordering him to investigate the scene or the remark about a head on a platter.

“To this day, he thinks the guys turned on him,” said one of the former SEAL Team 6 leaders. “Well, they did. What we didn’t do was turn him in. You will step over the line and you start dehumanizing people. You really do. And it takes the team, it takes individuals to pull you back. And part of that was getting rid of Britt Slabinski.”

Two other SEAL Team 6 leaders with a combined 35 years at the command said the removal of Slabinski and the failure to pursue official punishment was an indictment of the senior officers — they had failed one of their most basic duties, to hold themselves and others accountable for wrongdoing.

When Szymanski, who was then commanding officer of all regular East Coast-based SEAL teams, heard that Slabinski had been rejected by Team 6, he requested him as his senior enlisted adviser. The request was approved and Slabinski was promoted.

“If a guy cuts off another guy’s head and nothing happens, that becomes the standard,” said one of the former SEAL Team 6 leaders. “You’re moving the bar and buying into an emotional justification, ‘War is hell.’ If you’re not disciplining your force, you’re saying it’s OK.”

-- The Crimes of Seal Team 6, by Matthew Cole


“I got kicked out of the Boy Scouts,” said one former officer. Most Team 6 SEALs, he added, “were like me.”

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A prospective member of the Navy SEALs with a tattoo depicting hand-to-hand combat, during dive training in Coronado, Calif. Credit Stephanie Freid-Perenchio

Delta Force members, who have a reputation for going by the book, often start out as regular infantry, then move up through the Army’s Ranger units and Special Forces teams before joining Delta. But SEAL Team 6 is more isolated from the rest of the Navy, with many of its men entering the brutal SEAL training pipeline from outside the military.

After several years on regular SEAL teams — the even-numbered ones based in Virginia Beach, the odd-numbered ones in San Diego, and a unit in Hawaii dedicated to mini-submarines — SEALs can try out for Team 6. Many are eager to get to the most elite unit, but about half of them wash out.

Officers rotate through Team 6, sometimes returning for several tours, but the enlisted SEALs typically stay far longer, giving them outsize influence. “A lot of the enlisted guys think that they really run the show,” said one former senior member. “That’s part of the Marcinko style.”

And they tend to swagger, critics and defenders say. While the other SEAL teams (called “white” or “vanilla” SEALs within the military) perform similar tasks, Team 6 pursues the highest value targets and takes on hostage rescues in combat zones. It also works more with the C.I.A. and does more clandestine missions outside war zones. Only Team 6 trains to chase after nuclear weapons that fall into the wrong hands.

Team 6’s role in the 2011 Bin Laden raid spawned a cottage industry of books and documentaries, leaving tight-lipped Delta Force troops rolling their eyes. Members of Team 6 are expected to honor a code of silence about their missions, and many current and former members fume that two of their own spoke out about their role in the Qaeda leader’s death. The men, Matt Bissonnette, author of two best sellers about his tenure at SEAL Team 6, and Robert O’Neill, who said in a television special that he had killed Bin Laden, are under investigation by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service over accusations that they revealed classified information.

Others have been quietly kicked out for drug use or quit over conflicts of interest involving military contractors or side jobs. The Navy reprimanded 11 current and former operators in 2012 for disclosing Team 6 tactics or handing over classified training films to help promote a computer game, “Medal of Honor: Warfighter.”

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The burial site at Arlington National Cemetery for the remains of the men killed when a helicopter known as Extortion 17 was shot down in 2011 in Afghanistan. Credit Gabriella Demczuk for The New York Times
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