In the Vince Flynn novel "The Third Option," covert agent Mitch Rapp is sent to assassinate a European official who is secretly aiding Saddam Hussein. The title comes from the explanation of Rapp being the third option for the government to pick, an off-the-books assassin who is chosen to eliminate a problem when the options of diplomacy and up-front action have been exhausted. His existence is known but to a few people, and if he is ever exposed, the government is going to deny he ever existed in the first place. The idea, of course, is that sometimes the government has to bend the rules a little to eliminate a threat, but that those endeavors are always noble for the hero Rapp, who, of course, becomes a target for people with less honorable intentions.
I know it's fiction, but I couldn't help but think of that novel when I heard about the controversy over "No Easy Day," the book written by a former SEAL who allegedly participated in the raid on Osama bin Laden's compound that resulted in the al-Qaida leader's death. I say alleged because, while this guy's participation is apparently not being questioned by the media at large, I personally don't know what to believe anymore.
You know the story the White House told: Bin Laden went for a weapon and the SEALs shot him. According to "No Easy Day," bin Laden was shot when he poked his head out of a door, and then when the SEALs discovered him lying on the floor twitching -- unarmed -- they shot him a few more times.
Two versions, when there can only be one truth. But the questions are numerous: Did the SEALs violate their order to take bin Laden alive if he posed no threat, or was the mission an assassination from the get-go? Did the White House sanitize the truth to cover up a violation of law, or did it polish it a little to make it more exciting? And how much credit does the president actually deserve for giving the go-ahead to get the world's most wanted man?
According to the book, the SEALs joked afterward that they had just gotten Obama -- who some apparently didn't care for but respected as commander-in-chief -- re-elected by killing bin Laden, but they were also glad that he gave the order to go in in the first place.
I haven't found a whole lot for which to praise the president during his term, but I have admired his penchant for sending in the SEALs to kill bad guys. And I still do. But I'm left wondering now, what the real truth is. Cover story or spin, the White House may have twisted the truth (shocking, I know). But I wonder what the purpose of that twist was.
Not that I guess I care much in the grand scheme of things. Few who don't subscribe to extremist Islamic ideology can argue the world would be better off with bin Laden in it. And I'm certainly not going to question the actions or the honor of the SEALs. I have learned that people in combat are having an experience I can never understand, and if they thought a guy poking his head out of a door in that situation needed shooting, then he needed shooting. And if he needed shooting some more to make sure he was dead, then he needed shooting some more.
I do worry about the SEAL who wrote this book, however. His identity now exposed, thanks to television news, he will no doubt become an even bigger target for the very people he fought to protect us from. The man already put his life on the line to get bin Laden. It seems tragic to put it on the line again just to set the record straight.
Email Nate McCullough at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears on Fridays. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/natemccullough.