State Senator Ryan Zinke, who started a Super PAC ostensibly to criticize President Obama’s politicization of the death of Osama bin Laden, seems to have forgotten that, in the hours and days immediately following the terrorist leader’s death, he was discussing the classified, secretive military unit and its operational details with reporters and media outlets all over Montana and the rest of the nation.
One of the claims that Mr. Zinke raised as justification for his PAC was the absurd conservative argument that the Obama administration outed the Navy SEAL Team Six responsible for killing Osama bin Laden. According to the International Business Times:
Zinke alleges that Obama personally put the troops at risk by identifying SEAL Team 6 as the commando unit that carried out the bin Laden raid and is “riding on the coattails of America’s military” to politicize his role as commander-in-chief.
This has been a common refrain among conspiracy-minded Republicans, who go so far as to assert that Vice President Biden and the President led to the deaths of members of the team responsible for the assault on bin Laden’s compound.
One element of that claim has always troubled me. According to conservative critics of the administration, Vice President Biden “outed” the SEAL team at an evening dinner on May 3rd. Fox News reported that claim May 4, 2011. Investors Business Daily even wrote an editorial suggesting that Vice President Biden was responsible for outing Team Six.
However, on May 2nd at 12:21 p.m., the Helena Independent Record posted a story by Mike Dennison in which Zinke discussed specific details about the raid, including how many people were deployed, who Team 6 is deployed against and in what kind of missions, where the unit’s security would have been posted, and the unit’s rules of engagement.
At 2:00 a.m. on May 3rd, hours before Biden gave his remarks, Zinke was quoted in the Daily Interlake, not only giving credit for the kill to SEAL Team Six, but providing specific operational details about the unit, including its size and mission before the attack on bin Laden’s compound.
Another version of the Zinke story appeared in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle even earlier, on May 2, 2011 at 4:26 p.m. The Flathead Beacon had the same story, posted some time on May 2, less than 24 hours after the announcement of bin Laden’s death.
The timeline makes it clear that Senator Zinke has some explaining to do:
- Sunday, May 1 at 11:35 p.m. EST President Obama publicly announced the death of Osama bin Laden at , only identifying the unit involved as a “small team of Americans.”
- Monday, May 2 at Morning Pentagon Briefing spokesperson refuses to confirm identity of unit involved.
- Monday, May 2 at 12:26 p.m. The Independent Record posts a story in which Zinke lists operational details about the mission and identifying Navy SEAL Team Six.
- On Monday May 2 at 4:26 p.m. MST the Bozeman Daily Chronicle posted an AP story quoting Zinke giving credit for the raid to SEAL Team Six.
- Tuesday, May 3 at 5:25 MST, Vice President Biden acknowledges that Navy SEALS were responsible, without identifying Team Six. He said, “He can tell you more about and understands the incredible, the phenomenal, the just almost unbelievable capacity of his Navy SEALs and what they did last Sunday.”
- Thursday, May 12: Defense Secretary Robert Gates criticized the flood of news coverage that had become public through media reports.
The truth is that I am disinclined to believe that naming Navy SEAL Team Six threatened their lives in the way that Zinke alleges, but if he really believes it, how can he defend his behavior in the hours after the bin Laden announcement?
Even though sources were telling reporters about the involvement of Seals, Senator Zinke went much farther, going on record to provide specific details about the unit and confirming that SEAL team members had confirmed the unit’s involvement. Even as late as May 4, when the New York Times said of the team that it was “a unit so secretive that the White House and the Defense Department do not directly acknowledge its existence,” Senator Zinke was happy to confirm the existence of the unit.
Some of the outrageous conspiracy theories generated by that claim are not only offensive to the memory of those who later lost their lives, but to the honor of the United States and its government as a whole. By trafficking in them, Zinke is engaging in the worst kind destructive, anti-American politics.
It’s should be unimaginable that Senator Zinke would have the indecency to attack President Obama for “trading U.S. security for political popularity” when he was running around to every news outlet he could find to talk about Navy SEAL Team Six–well before anyone else did. Perhaps Senator Zinke should have read the tagline in the anti-Obama video his site has posted:
HEROES DON’T SEEK CREDIT.
Senator Zinke owes President Obama an apology–and he owes the rest of us an explanation.
Addendum: Senator Zinke’s deep respect for the military also apparently doesn’t extend to protecting the integrity of its logos, as Adam Jones at Mother Jones reports today:
According to the Department of Defense, each service branch’s symbols are trademarked, and their commercial and political use is tracked closely by military officials to prevent any appearance of the military’s endorsing a partisan or for-profit cause. The officials said they will be contacting the group and asking them to stop using the insignia or face potential legal action.