Washington: The Pentagon on Thursday threatened legal action against the former Navy SEAL who has written a book recounting his role in the May 2011 raid that killed Al Qaida chief Osama Bin Laden.
Just days before the release of the first-hand account of the operation on Pakistani soil, the Pentagon’s top lawyer, Jeh Johnson, told the author he had broken his promise to abide by a strict non-disclosure agreement signed before he retired from the military this year.
“In the judgment of the Department of Defense, you are in material breach and violation of the non-disclosure agreements you signed” and the Pentagon is considering “all remedies legally available,” Johnson said in a letter to the author, who writes under the pseudonym Mark Owen.
The former Navy commando’s book “No Easy Day” is due to be released next week but has already sparked a wave of publicity and controversy.
He signed documents during his service and before he retired promising “never to divulge” classified information and to submit any manuscript to the Pentagon before publishing, Johnson said.
The Pentagon’s general counsel noted that some copies of the book had appeared on Wednesday - before next week’s scheduled release - and warned: “Further dissemination of your book will aggravate your breach and violation of your agreements,” it said.
The letter did not indicate whether the book had revealed secrets that could endanger US forces but made clear that simply by failing to clear the manuscript with the military, the Navy SEAL had broken faith with his obligations.
Top military and intelligence officials, who met to discuss the book on Wednesday, have combed through the text in recent days looking for any disclosure of sensitive tactics or techniques but so far have not pointed to any worrisome revelations.
The Navy SEAL team member’s version of Bin Laden’s death at his Abbottabad compound differs from previous accounts offered by President Barack Obama’s administration and comes amid a politically-charged debate about the handling of state secrets in the wake of the raid.
The Pentagon made clear that the publisher, Penguin’s Dutton, also faced potential legal jeopardy over the book.
“I write to you to formally advise you of your material breach and violation of your agreements, and to inform you that the Department is considering pursuing against you, and all those acting in concert with you, all remedies legally available to us in light of this situation,” it said.
The publisher has moved up the scheduled release date from September 11 to September 4, as media coverage has fueled a flood of orders for the book.
The book provides fresh details about the May 2011 raid, describing how Bin Laden was first shot in the head as he peered out of a door and then pumped with bullets as he convulsed on the floor.
Previous official accounts said Bin Laden had appeared in a doorway and ducked back into his bedroom, leading the US commandos to suspect he might be retrieving a weapon.
But the author said Bin Laden was shot in the head by the SEAL team when he leaned out of the doorway and was found bleeding from his wound when commandos made their way to his room, according to excerpts cited in media reports and confirmed to AFP by defense officials.
The Al Qaida leader was mortally wounded and twitching on the floor as two women cried over his body. The team pushed aside the women and then fired more shots at him, according to the book.
We “fired several rounds,” the author wrote in the book. “The bullets tore into him, slamming his body into the floor until he was motionless.”
Fox News has revealed what it says is the identity of the author, a former Navy SEAL who also took part in the 2009 operation that rescued Captain Richard Phillips from Somali pirates.
Obama administration officials have appeared anxious to avoid having to discuss or defend in detail an operation they deem a major triumph, while suggesting the book did not shed any new light on the raid.