Though the Boston College campus undoubtedly heard of the daring raid that ended in the death of Osama bin Laden last May, Nicholas Schmidle gave a far more in-depth perspective on the topic last Monday in Devlin 008.
In an event hosted by the Americans for Informed Democracy, the Islamic Civilizations Program, and the Southeast Asian Student Association, Schmidle, a writer covering international and intercultural issues and frequent contributor to The New York Times Magazine, spoke about the events that led to the death of the FBI’s most wanted international criminal.
Schmidle earned a degree in philosophy from James Madison University. He then attended Loyola Chicago and American University, studying Persian at Tehran University later on.
“I always wanted to [do] foreign journalism but I didn’t really know how,” Schmidle said about his early career.
After doing freelance work for The Washington Post and moving several times throughout the Middle East, Schmidle returned to the United States in 2008 and first came into contact with the CIA through a panel at the Council of Foreign Relations with a former CIA Station Chief.
The primary focus of Schmidle’s presentation was a close look at the details of the raid on bin Laden’s Pakistani compound on May 2.
Among the exposed details were reasons for the crash landing of a Navy SEAL helicopter the night of the raid.
According to Schmidle, the original plan took into account a chain link fence around the compound. At the actual scene, the fence was not chain link, and the helicopter was “caught in its own vortex,” crash-landing in the middle of the compound.
Because of the military technology inside, the pilot destroyed the inside of the helicopter with a hand grenade.
Schmidle explained that, during the raid, President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and other observers at the White House had no audio and only fuzzy pictures from a drone satellite orbiting the situation.
As Navy SEALs climbed the stairs of the compound, bin Laden’s son emerged firing a weapon. He was killed by American forces soon after.
On the third floor, bin Laden was found with three women and bullet wounds to his head and chest.
Upon bin Laden’s death, a Navy SEAL said, “For God and country, Geronimo, Geronimo EKIA (enemy killed in action).”
After extraction, the Navy SEALs confirmed Osama’s identity through measurements and a DNA sample. They buried him at sea off the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Carl Vinson.
Following his presentation, Schmidle answered audience questions. When asked if there was an attempt made to capture bin Laden rather than kill him outright, Schmidle stated his belief that the mission was always intended to kill him, despite the White House’s insistence that bin Laden be taken alive if possible.
In the article he wrote for The New Yorker about the bin Laden raid, Schmidle summarized the reaction of a special operations soldier during the raid.
“A second SEAL stepped into the room and trained the infrared laser of his M4 on bin Laden’s chest,” Schmidle wrote. “The al-Qaida chief, who was wearing a tan shalwar kameez and a prayer cap on his head, froze; he was unarmed. There was never any question of detaining or capturing him—it wasn’t a split-second decision. ‘No one wanted detainees,’ the special-operations officer told me. The Administration maintains that had bin Laden immediately surrendered he could have been taken alive.”
Near the end of his presentation, Schmidle emphasized the importance of American success in Pakistan, saying, “The symbolic victory was huge … there’s no way the U.S. could consider really leaving [Pakistan] until bin Laden was dead.”
Editor’s Note: Samantha Costanzo, for The Heights, contributed to this report.