The most moving moment of President Trump’s first address to a joint session of Congress was when he recognized Carryn Owens, the widow of a U.S. Navy special operator, Senior Chief William “Ryan” Owens, the Navy SEAL who died during last month’s counterterrorism raid in Yemen. “Ryan died as he lived: a warrior, and a hero — battling against terrorism and securing our nation,” Trump said. Then he quoted Secretary of Defense James Mattis:
I just spoke to General Mattis, who reconfirmed that, and I quote, “Ryan was a part of a highly successful raid that generated large amounts of vital intelligence that will lead to many more victories in the future against our enemies.” Ryan’s legacy is etched into eternity. For as the Bible teaches us, there is no greater act of love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. Ryan laid down his life for his friends, for his country, and for our freedom — we will never forget him.
The entire chamber broke into applause, giving a tearful Carryn Owens, who was seated next to Ivanka Trump, a standing ovation. “And Ryan is looking down right now and I think he’s very happy because he broke a record,” Trump ad-libbed, apparently suggesting that Owens would be pleased at the length of his standing ovation.
In addition to recognizing an American hero, Trump’s comments served the secondary purpose of rebutting criticism of the Yemen raid. Soon after the mission, reports emerged that just about everything went wrong. While Owens was the only U.S. service member who lost his life, six others were wounded. Yemenis were reportedly incensed by photos of children killed in the 50-minute firefight. After reports emerged that Trump had approved the raid over a dinner with his top advisers, some anonymous military sources suggested that the president shouldn’t have given the go-ahead.
Officials told NBC News on Monday that contrary to claims made by the White House and the Pentagon, the mission did not produce any significant intelligence, which is why Trump noted that Mattis had “reconfirmed” the mission’s success.
But perhaps the most significant criticism of the raid came over the weekend, when Ryan Owens’s father revealed that he refused to meet with Trump when he visited Dover Air Force Base in Delaware to witness the return of the remains.
“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?’’ Bill Owens said.
Referencing White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s claim that anyone who criticizes the raid does “a disservice to the life of Chief Owens,” Bill Owens added, “Don’t hide behind my son’s death to prevent an investigation.”
The Trump administration noted that the Pentagon is already conducting a routine review of the matter. While the progressive veterans group VoteVets called for a congressional probe of the operation, so far there’s no sign that Congress intends to launch an investigation.
This post has been updated throughout.