Monday 21 August 2017

Interview with Bin Laden's killer gets SEAL of approval

Rob O'Neill, the former US Navy Seal who claims to have killed Osama bin Laden (REUTERS)
Rob O'Neill, the former US Navy Seal who claims to have killed Osama bin Laden (REUTERS)
The mountain region of Tora Bora where Osama bin Laden had his stronghold (AP)
Darragh McManus

Darragh McManus

God bless you, Pat Hickey. As outlined here before, sports scandals like the one involving the former Olympic Council of Ireland president serve a valuable public function.

I believe they meet some fundamental need in the psyche: giving us scandal and drama and twists-in-the-tale - basically, something to talk about - safe in the knowledge that, in the end, none of this is particularly important or serious.

Sport is great for rows and ructions over tickets, boardroom struggles, "he said she said" wars of words, doping, suspensions, cost overruns, building delays, funding controversies, etc. They provide all the intrigue and excitement of "proper" news stories, with none of the horror and grimness inevitably associated with reports of war, murder, disaster.

So thanks again, Pat Hickey, for adding to the gaiety of the nation with everything that's happened - or not happened; thanks for that proviso, legal counsel - before and after last summer's Olympics in Rio. He gave a long interview to Paul Williams on Newstalk Breakfast (Mon-Fri 6.30am), which covered most aspects of the case, within the usual legal parameters of what can be mentioned.

My main "takeaway" was when Hickey declared: "Lots of people said many things about me when I was away. My legal team have kept a record and a track of everything. When I clear my name, I'll spend some time reading over all those."

Well I've just told him "God bless" and "thank you"… so I figure I'm in the clear.

There was a fascinating interview, of an utterly different sort, on Today with Sean O'Rourke (Radio 1, Mon-Fri 10am). Robert O'Neill is a former US Navy SEAL who's been involved in more than 400 combat missions. He's from Montana. He has Irish relatives, Cork mainly. Most importantly, O'Neill claims to be the man who killed Osama Bin Laden during that 2011 raid on a compound in Pakistan.

His account of the mission - how they breached Bin Laden's lair, worked their way room-by-room, removed women and children, checking for suicide bombers as they closed in on the jihadist before delivering the coup de grâce - was riveting. It sounded like an action thriller, only this really happened.

I'm sure right-on types clutched their pearls at his description of comrades as "cool guys doing cool stuff", but I wouldn't take that too literally; it's just how people talk. O'Neill said he didn't take killing lightly, even terrorists, but that's the job and you do it.

And is the world a worse place because a monster like Bin Laden is shot? Eh, not really.

Disgraced sportswriter Tom Humphries was in court for a pre-sentencing hearing after admitting serious sexual crimes against an under-age girl. The ex-Irish Times journo pleaded guilty last March, and this story first broke five or six years ago, but most media outlets hadn't named him until this week.

So, of course, conspiracy theories were flying. Media colleagues were covering it up. The fix was in. Collusion, intrigue, murky dealings in the shadows.

The truth, of course, was far simpler. As this newspaper's Shane Phelan explained to The Last Word (Today FM, Mon-Fri 4.30pm): "We weren't able to report his name until now because he was facing another set of charges, and the trial on those was set to get under way around now… but the DPP has decided to drop those charges and enter a nolle prosequi so the prohibition on identifying him was lifted."

As straightforward as that. No media conspiracy, just responsible journalists and publishers obeying the law. Something the shrieking loudmouths on social media might bear in mind.

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