News / USA

Obama Will Not Release bin Laden Death Photo

A roadside vendor sells newspapers with headlines about the death of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, in Lahore May 3, 2011.
A roadside vendor sells newspapers with headlines about the death of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, in Lahore May 3, 2011.
Kent Klein

President Barack Obama decided Wednesday not to release photographs of al-Qaida terror network leader Osama bin Laden after he was shot and killed.  The president’s decision ended three days of debate on the issue within his administration.   

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the president made the decision not to release the photos of Osama bin Laden’s body for several reasons.

Carney read excerpts from the transcript of an interview Mr. Obama gave to CBS television earlier Wednesday.  According to Carney, the president said he is concerned that making the gruesome images public could damage U.S. national security.

"It is important for us to make sure that very graphic photos of somebody who was shot in the head are not floating around as an incitement to additional violence or as a propaganda tool.  That is not who we are.  We do not trot out this stuff as trophies," he said.

Carney said the president told the interviewer that there is no doubt among al-Qaida members that bin Laden is dead.  The White House spokesman quoted Mr. Obama as saying, "You will not see Osama bin Laden walking on this Earth again."

Carney told reporters that the president has held his position on the issue very firmly, and that Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton agreed with his decision to not to disclose the pictures.

But CIA Director Leon Panetta, whom Mr. Obama has chosen to be the next defense secretary, said publicly, several times before the decision was announced, that the photographs should be released.

Whether the president should make the pictures public also caused some disagreement on Capitol Hill.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said that keeping the photographs from the public would be a mistake.  Another Republican Senator, Kelly Ayotte, said that doing so will foster doubts that bin Laden is really dead.

"We have seen that in many instances around the world, there can be conspiracy theories about these types of events.  And so, I think it is important in terms of closure that, while nobody wants to see disturbing photos, the closure aspect of it, I think, is very important," he said.

But many other lawmakers, Republicans among them, support Mr. Obama’s decision.

Republican Mike Rogers is Chairman of the House of Representatives Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. "If you are a sergeant in a town in Ghazni, Afghanistan and you are trying to get some local elder to cooperate about what is happening in your village, are you going to do it if this inflames?  We have a trophy of Osama bin Laden?  I worry about that," he said.

President Obama made a similar decision in May, 2009, when he reversed an earlier decision and decided against releasing photographs of the abuse of detainees at U.S. military prisons.  In that case, he also based his decision on the potential for the images to incite violence.

Mr. Obama is scheduled go to New York on Thursday, to lay a wreath at the National September 11 Memorial, on the site of the World Trade Center.  About 2,800 people were killed in 2001, when the 110-story twin towers were destroyed in an al-Qaida attack.

The president will not speak publicly at the event.  He will meet with the families of the victims and emergency workers who died that day.

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