He has come under fire for singling himself out and talking about killing Osama bin Laden.
But Rob O'Neill – the ex-Navy SEAL who said he fired the shot that took out the FBI’s Most Wanted Man – has defended his right to tell his version of events.
Speaking on the TODAY show on Friday, the 38-year-old said, defiantly, “One of the things that we fought for was freedom and a lot of these freedoms – free speech, free opinion.”
He added, in answer to his critics and former Navy SEAL colleagues, “I hope they don’t think I did the wrong thing.
“I hope they see I’m doing it for the right reasons.”
O’Neill sat down with TODAY’s Savannah Guthrie to give a blow-by-blow account of what he says happened that day in May 2011 when bin Laden was killed in his hideaway Pakistan compound.
He says that – although he wasn’t supposed to be at the heart of the operation – he decided to take the risk to fulfill the mission at hand.
O’Neill told Guthrie, “I was perimeter security team leader but I moved to the rooftop team because – after speaking with Intelligence and who we were going after – if any house was going to blow up this one would and the most dangerous spot would be the rooftop team.
“And I wanted to go with my guys that would be there, to be there with them.”
O’Neill added that the team were “90 percent sure it was a one-way mission” and they were all fully prepared to give their lives for that cause.
“This is what we’re here for,” he said. “This is why we joined the military. This is why we became Navy SEALs. This is the number one mission.”
O’Neill described encountering bin Laden soon after they entered the house and taking the opportunity Americans had waited a decade for – to kill the Al-Qaeda leader.
After entering from the rooftop, they headed down to the third floor where they saw the leader behind some women.
When a fellow SEAL pushed the women out of the way and “fell on them in the hallway in order to absorb what he thought would have been a blast,” O’Neill says he shot bin Laden.
He said: “I was able to turn right and then I was a few feet away from Osama bin Laden.
“He was in a room behind another woman. He was standing up on two feet…
“He was not surrendering so…it was in my rules of engagement…if anyone’s going to be wearing a suicide vest it’s this man.”
“And just because he’s not surrendering he could, what we call clack himself off so he needed to be shot.”
O’Neill said he shot the terrorist leader, took out the “primary threat” and watched him take his last breath He also said that he sees that moment in his mind "every day."
But, as Guthrie pointed out, another SEAL Matt Bissonnette claimed that he fired the shot that killed bin Laden.
Brushing that account aside, O’Neill said, “I can only speak for what I saw. This is the fog of war…”
He added, “There’s no controversy as far as I’m concerned…this was a very good thing that we did.”
O’Neill defended his right to break the SEALs’ code of secrecy saying that he was telling his story to help families of the victims of 9/11 get closure.
He said, “What I’m doing now is telling them a story, helping them heal and that is worth it to me.”