The precision prowess of Navy SEAL commandos will be on full display today with the nationwide release of Sony Picture’s “Captain Phillips,” depicting the 2009 high-seas rescue of Capt. Richard Phillips, played by Tom Hanks, after a five-day ordeal with Somalia pirates.
The film will no doubt reinforce the myth surrounding the elite, 3,800-active SEAL force, especially after news this week of a raid in Somalia aimed at capturing a reputed al-Shabaab leader.
Still, at least one former member of the SEAL Team Six unit on the Phillips rescue is twisting in legal limbo as the Justice Department mulls action in part based on his disclosure last year in a best-selling book of some tactics and techniques now depicted in the film.
The Pentagon and Navy supported the film with vessels and technical assistance. The Navy, in a cagey move, provided at no cost to the taxpayers three vessels already on training missions — the USS Truxton, USS Wasp and USS Halyburton. The Truxton, a destroyer, is sister ship of the USS Bainbridge that served as s perch for the SEAL snipers and shadowed the Phillips lifeboat.
“By supporting the production, the Navy was able to ensure authentic portrayal of fleet operations and the successful recovery of Captain Phillips, Navy spokeswoman Lt. Lauryn Dempsey told us.
The Naval Special Warfare Command provided a SEAL Master Chief as a technical adviser for two weeks during filming in Norfolk, Virginia ‘‘to assist in ensuring, as best as possible, an accurate portrayal of SEALs today,” Dempsey said.
The adviser ‘‘made certain that the SEALs and tactics portrayed in the film accurately represented Naval Special Warfare,’’ she said.
In the Pentagon, which reviews scripts before deciding on providing support, there was little discussion of the script, said Philip Strub, the Pentagon’s entertainment support maven.
Most of the talk centered on support logistics for the production company that shot much of the action at sea, off Malta, he said. And no one raised any concerns about tactics or techniques being compromised, he said.
A Sony rep said the filmmakers spoke extensively to a “‘military source who was deeply involved in the SEAL Team Six operation’’ and that his input ‘‘was key in crafting’’ the rescue scenes.
The Sony reps said the filmmakers were aware of Owen’s book ‘‘but had a wealth of direct information, in great detail, well before’’ it was published.
The Navy and SEAL assistance is all a little much for Washington attorney Robert Luskin of Patton Boggs LLP. Luskin’s client is author and ex-SEAL Team Six member ‘‘Mark Owen,’’ who wrote the best selling ‘‘No Easy Day,’’ a detailed account of the May 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
The Pentagon and Justice accuse him of disclosing classified information although the case has disappeared from public view. Less remembered is that Owen, who’s real name is Matt Bissonnette, of La Mirada, California, participated in the Phillips operation.
Owen wrote that he and the SEAL Team Six unit parachuted into the Indian Ocean, splashing into shark infested waters to link up the USS Boxer — out of sight from the pirates. Owen didn’t pull a trigger yet related to the night sniper attack that killed three pirates and rescued Phillips.
The Defense Department ‘‘has said publicly that it objects to details” of both the bin Laden raid and Phillips rescue, Luskin said.
“I don’t know whether it’s more ironic or more profoundly depressing to see the DoD continue to hound Mark Owen for telling the exact same story that it once again falls over itself to share with Hollywood,” Luskin said in an e-mail statement.
“The government has a legitimate interest in protecting classified information but it doesn’t hold a franchise on the facts,” he said. “There’s something ugly and unseemly about the government’s myopic pursuit of Mark Owen, while it ignores the obvious: that the government has leaked like a screen door on these very same facts.”
Postscript — the slightly bullet-marked orange life raft that carried Phillips was donated by the Maersk Line shortly after the incident to the National Navy SEAL Museum, in Fort Pierce, Florida.