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Truthdigger of the Week: Bill Owens, for Questioning a Raid That Killed His Navy SEAL Son

Posted on Mar 4, 2017

By Natasha Hakimi

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The still image above from a Democracy Now! video shows Carryn Owens, center, the widow of Navy SEAL Ryan Owens, during President Trump’s address to Congress. At right is Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter.

Plenty of questions surround the botched raid in Yemen that took place on Jan. 28, and Arizona Sen. John McCain isn’t the only one asking them. Bill Owens, the father of Navy SEAL Ryan Owens, who died in the raid, and a former member of the military himself, has been vocal about his doubts about the mission.

Although the raid was planned during the Obama administration, the former president delayed signing off on it for a number of reasons, including concerns that it could escalate U.S. involvement in Yemen. The mission consisted of a plan to send the Navy’s SEAL Team 6 in to “scoop up cellphones and laptop computers that could yield valuable clues about one of the world’s most dangerous terrorist groups,” according to The New York Times. However, “almost everything that could go wrong did,” the Times reported.

While such missions are usually discussed in the White House situation room, the Yemen raid was approved by President Trump at a Jan. 25 dinner with former national security adviser Mike Flynn and other top members of his team.

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The Navy SEAL raid turned into a firefight that took the lives of up to 29 civilians—including several children—as well as Owens, a 37-year-old father of three, and the information obtained during the mission has been called into question.

In an interview with the Miami Herald, Owens’ father said he refused to meet Trump when his son’s body was delivered, and he called for an investigation into the mission that took his son’s life. He suspects that the raid was approved for political reasons six days into the new president’s term. Owens also worried that Trump’s “Muslim ban”—which would disallow travel to the United States by Yemenis and was declared the day before the mission was to take place—may have alienated allies and possibly caused leaks. Here are several excerpts from his interview:

“Why at this time did there have to be this stupid mission when it wasn’t even barely a week into his administration? Why? For two years prior, there were no boots on the ground in Yemen—everything was missiles and drones—because there was not a target worth one American life. Now, all of a sudden we had to make this grand display?’’ ... “Don’t hide behind my son’s death to prevent an investigation,” said the elder Owens, pointing to Trump’s sharp words directed at the mission’s critics, including Sen. John McCain.

“I want an investigation. … The government owes my son an investigation,” he said. ... Standing 6-4, and weighing about 225 pounds, Ryan loved the physical part of the job and serving his country, even though it took him away from his family much of the year.

“I always kept hoping that we would eventually make up for lost time, but that’s not going to happen,” his father said. ... “I’d like some answers about all the things that happened in the timeline that led up to it. I know what the timeline is, and it bothers me a lot,” said Owens, who acknowledges he didn’t vote for Donald Trump. ... “It just doesn’t make any sense to do something to antagonize an ally when you’re going to conduct a mission in that country,” he said. “Did we alienate some of the people working with them, translators or support people[?] Maybe they decided to release information to jeopardize the mission.”

These are only some of the many questions that Owens believes should be thoroughly examined, including the possibility that the decision to move forward with the mission was motivated by politics.

“I think these are valid questions. I don’t want anybody to think I have an agenda, because I don’t. I just want the truth.”

While these are still solely speculations, Owens’ insistence that a thorough investigation take place highlights some of the issues with U.S. missions in the Middle East. Trump’s response to the tragedy in which so many lives were lost has been to ignore Owens’ call for an investigation, disregard the civilian lives lost, blame his generals for any failings and seemingly use Ryan’s widow, Carryn Owens, as a political prop in his address to Congress on Tuesday.

In a piece for The Intercept, Glenn Greenwald pointed out that this sort of behavior is commonplace for American presidents, and indeed it won Trump the approval of media critics such as CNN commentator Van Jones, who described him as presidential in his treatment of Carryn. Greenwald wrote:

This is standard fare in U.S. war propaganda: We fixate on the Americans killed, learning their names and life stories and the plight of their spouses and parents, but steadfastly ignore the innocent people the U.S. government kills, whose numbers are always far greater. ... Senior Chief Ryan Owens is a household name, and his wife, Carryn, is the subject of national admiration and sympathy. But the overwhelming majority of Americans do not know, and will never learn, the name of even a single foreign victim out of the many hundreds of thousands that their country has killed over the last 15 years. This imbalance plays a massive role in how Americans understand themselves, the countries their government invades and bombs, and the Endless War that is being waged.

None of this is to say that the tribute to Owens and the sympathy for his wife are undeserved. Quite the contrary: When a country, decade after decade, keeps sending a small, largely disadvantaged portion of its citizenry to bear all the costs and risks of the wars it starts — while the nation’s elite and their families are largely immune — the least the immunized elites can do is pay symbolic tribute when they are killed. ... unique or not, this is an incredibly consequential tool of war propaganda. By dramatizing the deaths of Americans while disappearing the country’s victims, this technique ensures that Americans perpetually regard themselves as victims of horrific, savage, tragic violence but never the perpetrators of it. That, in turn, is what keeps Americans supporting endless war: These savages keep killing us, so we have no choice but to fight them.

Greenwald’s piece reveals a perhaps unintentional consequence of Owens’ refusal to allow the mission to fade into memory as Trump insists it was “highly successful.” While Owens is, understandably, focused on the details of his son’s death, his call for an investigation will keep the raid and the 30 mostly civilian deaths present in the papers and American’s minds. Moreover, an investigation could bring to light political motives of war that are often obscured by our leaders. For his brave refusal to allow a failed mission to go unscrutinized, Bill Owens is our Truthdigger of the Week.


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