The U.S. government is deciding whether to reveal pics and video of his death, and his body..! (do we need that?)
Over 36 hours after Osama bin Laden’s death was announced, the Obama administration is still mulling whether to release photos of the terror leader’s corpse.
“There is no update on [whether] to release the photos,” a White House spokesman told reporters in an email this morning. “If or when there’s more to say, we’ll let you know.”
At issue are three sets of photos, CNN has reported: one from the raid in which bin Laden was killed, one from an Afghan hangar where his body taken, and one from his burial at sea.
It appears likely that at least some of the images will be released. Although U.S. officials have said a DNA match established bin Laden’s identity with 99.9-percent certainty, they understand that making the photos public could help put an end to lingering skepticism about whether or not the al Qaeda leader is really dead. A spokesman for the Taliban has said there’s no proof that the killing happened. And some American conservatives have suggested that more evidence is needed to convince them.
“We are going to do everything we can to make sure that nobody has any basis to try to deny that we got Osama bin Laden,” White House counter-terror adviser John Brennan said yesterday. “Whether that includes photographs–this is something to be determined.”
Brennan also said that the images could jeopardize similar operations and intelligence sources in the future. But the significant concern appears to be that releasing the photos–especially because of their gruesome nature–has the potential to further inflame al Qaeda sympathizers and serve as a rallying point for jihadis. Bin Laden is said to have a gaping head wound over his left eye, with brains and blood visible where a bullet penetrated his skull.
Indeed, a senior U.S. official told CNN that the picture in which bin Laden is most recognizable–taken on the hangar–is also the grisliest, so it couldn’t be published on the front page of a newspaper.
Underlining the issue’s complexity, Steven Aftergood, a leading open government advocate who runs the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, told The Lookout that despite his default belief in transparency, he’s not eager to see the photos make public.
He said the issue is different from the one over declassifying images showing harsh interrogation techniques–something his organization strongly supported. The government’s effort to withhold those photos, he said “was part of effort to suppress the reality of U.S. interrogation policy.” By contrast, in the case of the bin Laden photos, he said, the call for their release is less about an important principle of transparency and more about “prurient interest.”
Aftergood argued that releasing the photos wouldn’t change many minds about whether bin Laden is really dead—or at least not enough to merit adding to an unhealthy sense of triumphalism among those who consider the killing long-awaited vengeance for the 9/11 attacks.
“I don’t want to see bloody heads on T-shirts and posters,” he said. (Indeed, merchandise celebrating the killing has already been made.)
But at least among lawmakers on Capitol Hill, there appears to be a growing sentiment that the pros of releasing the photos outweigh the cons.
“It may be necessary to release the pictures–as gruesome as they undoubtedly will be, because he’s been shot in the head—to quell any doubts that this somehow is a ruse that the American government has carried out,” Sen. Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut Indepedendent who chairs the Homeland Security Committee, said yesterday.
The top Republican on that committee, Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, agreed: “I recognize that there will be those who will try to generate this myth that he’s alive, and that we missed him somehow, and in order to put that to rest it may be necessary to release some of the pictures, or video, or the DNA test,” she said.
After Saddam Hussein’s sons Uday and Qusay were killed by U.S. forces in 2003, images of their bodies were released, but only after their bodies had been touched up by a mortician.