Code name Geronimo controversy

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Apache chief Geronimo (1829-1909), the namesake of the code name used in the Bin Laden raid.

The code name Geronimo controversy came about after media reports that the U.S. operation to kill Osama bin Laden used the code name "Geronimo" to refer to either the overall operation, to fugitive bin Laden himself or to the act of killing or capturing bin Laden.

Press reports claimed that "Geronimo" was used in the raid to refer to bin Laden himself,[1][2] but this was later contradicted by official sources.[3] The official mission code name was Operation Neptune Spear[4][5] (a reference to the trident in the SEAL insignia), with Jackpot as the code name for bin Laden as an individual and Geronimo as the code word for bin Laden's capture or death.[6] In the book No Easy Day, former SEAL Matt Bissonnette, who participated in the mission, states that "Geronimo" was the code name for bin Laden.[7]

The historical Geronimo was a leader of the Chiricahua Apache who defied the U.S. government and eluded capture.

Channel 4 News said "According to some analysis today, the U.S. military chose the code name because bin Laden, like Geronimo, had evaded capture for years. If they were trying to avoid mythmaking, it seems they chose the wrong code name."[8] Once bin Laden was killed, one of the commanders reported "Geronimo E-KIA", meaning that the mission had ended with the "Enemy Killed In Action".[9]

Many Native Americans objected to the use of the name Geronimo. "It's how deeply embedded the 'Indian as enemy' is in the collective mind of America," said Suzan Shown Harjo, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Morning Star Institute, a Native American advocacy group.[10] "There is little doubt [the] use of a leader like Geronimo to refer to bin Laden is ill-advised," wrote Keith Harper, an attorney and member of the Cherokee Nation, in an email with a reporter for The Washington Post.[11]

"Geronimo is a hero. He’s a national patriot for our peoples. And in that, it is indeed an egregious slander for indigenous peoples everywhere and to all Americans, I believe, to equate Osama bin Laden with Geronimo. The reality is, is that the military is full of native nomenclature. You’ve got Black Hawk helicopters, Apache Longbow helicopters. You’ve got Tomahawk missiles [...] The U.S. military still has individuals dressed—the Seventh Cavalry, that went in in Shock and Awe, is the same cavalry that massacred indigenous people, the Lakota people, at Wounded Knee in 1890. You know, that is the reality of military nomenclature and how the military basically uses native people and native imagery to continue its global war and its global empire practices."

Winona LaDuke, activist and author of The Militarization of Indian Country, on Democracy Now![12]

The leaders of several Native American Indian tribes urged President Obama to retroactively rename the military code name "Geronimo" used by the SEALS during the killing of bin Laden.[13][14][15] Fort Sill Apache Tribal Chairman Jeff Houser sent a letter to President Obama, decrying the linking of "the legendary Apache warrior" to a "mass murder and cowardly terrorist...Unlike the coward Osama bin Laden, Geronimo faced his enemy in numerous battles and engagements. He is perhaps one of the greatest symbols of Native American resistance in the history of the United States."[15] Questions to the White House about the code name were referred to the Defense Department, which stated no disrespect was meant and that code names are generally chosen at random. Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly told The Washington Times that "Even though the operation to capture or kill bin Laden is over...the name should be changed so that children don't encounter it in the history books."[13]

The Onondaga Council of Chiefs said that the use of code name Geronimo perpetuates negative stereotypes about Indians.[16] Nez Perce member Loretta Tuell, staff director and chief counsel for the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, said "These inappropriate uses of Native American icons and cultures are prevalent throughout our society, and the impacts to Native and non-Native children are devastating".[17] Jeff Houser, chairman of Geronimo's Fort Sill Apache Tribe, wrote a letter to President Obama saying "We are quite certain that the use of the name Geronimo as a code for Osama bin Laden was based on misunderstood and misconceived historical perspectives of Geronimo and his armed struggle against the United States and Mexican governments".[18]

Geronimo's great-grandson, Vietnam War veteran Harlyn Geronimo, issued a statement requesting explanations and apologies.[19]

On 8 May 2011, President Obama was interviewed by 60 Minutes saying "There was a point before folks had left, before we had gotten everybody back on the helicopter and were flying back to base, where they said Geronimo has been killed, and Geronimo was the code name for bin Laden."[20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "To the bottom of the sea: Bin Laden's last day". CBS Evening News. 2 May 2011.
  2. ^ "Behind the Hunt for Bin Laden". New York Times. 2 May 2011. Retrieved 9 May 2011.
  3. ^ "Native Americans object to linking Geronimo to bin Laden". CNN.
  4. ^ Jake Tapper. "US Official: "This Was a Kill Mission"". ABC News.
  5. ^ @GMA Twitter, 5/3
  6. ^ "'For God and Country Geronimo, Geronimo, Geromimo'". CBN News. Christian Broadcasting Network. May 3, 2011. Retrieved May 4, 2011.
  7. ^ Owen, Mark, and Kevin Maurer, No Easy Day (2012), Chapter 10, Dutton Penguin
  8. ^ "Target bin Laden: why was he code named 'Geronimo'?." Channel 4 News. May 3, 2011. Retrieved on May 3, 2011.
  9. ^ "To the bottom of the sea: Bin Laden's last day." CBS News. May 2, 2011. Retrieved on May 4, 2011.
  10. ^ King, Ledyard (May 6, 2011). "Indian leaders cry foul over bin Laden 'Geronimo' nickname". USA Today. Retrieved 20 May 2011.
  11. ^ Tucker, Neely (May 3, 2011). "American Indians object to 'Geronimo' as code for bin Laden raid". The Washington Post. Retrieved May 3, 2011.
  12. ^ Native American Activist Winona LaDuke on Use of "Geronimo" as Code for Osama bin Laden: "The Continuation of the Wars Against Indigenous People" — video report by Democracy Now!, May 6, 2011
  13. ^ a b Stephen Dinan (May 4, 2011). "Indian tribes: Strike Geronimo from bin Laden operation name". The Washington Times.
  14. ^ Michelle Nichols (May 4, 2011). "Bin Laden, Geronimo link angers Native Americans". Reuters.
  15. ^ a b Susan Montoya Bryan (May 4, 2011). "AP NewsBreak: Geronimo's tribe seeks apology". Associated Press.
  16. ^ "Onondagas Rip Osama's "Geronimo" Code Name". 4 May 2011.
  17. ^ "Onondaga Nation leaders blast 'Geronimo' codename for Bin Laden". 4 May 2011.
  18. ^ "Senate panel to discuss Geronimo code name, Native American concerns about racial stereotypes". 5 May 2011.
  19. ^ "Code Name 'Geronimo' Sparks Anger". 10 May 2011.
  20. ^ Steven Newcomb (11 May 2011). "Geronimo was the Code Name for bin Laden".