Thursday, May 5, 2011

U.S. Won't Release bin Laden Photos

Thursday, May 5, 2011

President Obama has decided not to release photographs of bin Laden taken after the al Qaeda leader was shot to death Sunday by U.S. forces. Laura Meckler tells us the reasoning behind the White House's decision.

WASHINGTON—President Barack Obama decided Wednesday not to release any photos or videos showing Osama bin Laden after he was shot to death, saying the images could incite violence or be used as a propaganda tool against the U.S.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters that President Obama will not release photos of the deceased Osama bin Laden, stating that the president doesn't want to incite further violence. Photo courtesy of Associated Press.

Osama bin Laden Is Dead

Photos from around the world.

AFP/Getty Images

Osama bin Laden

Reactions to the News

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Osama bin Laden Watchers

A look at Monday's front pages of U.S. newspapers on the news of Osama bin Laden's death.

Timeline: His Life

His Compound

On the ground

Diagram from the U.S. government

Photos inside and out

Anjum Naveed/Associated Press

U.S. forces found Osama bin Laden at this compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, about 40 miles outside Islamabad.

The decision came after an internal administration debate over whether the release was necessary to prove to the world that the al Qaeda leader was indeed dead.

Mr. Obama said the U.S. is "absolutely certain" the man that its forces killed and buried at sea was bin Laden, and that releasing a graphic photo would do little to silence doubters.

"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," Mr. Obama told CBS's "60 Minutes" in an interview Wednesday.

"That's not who we are. You know, we don't trot out this stuff as trophies....We don't need to spike the football," the president said. Mr. Obama himself saw the photos.

The U.S. said bin Laden was shot in the head and chest in a firefight this week after U.S. forces stormed a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, where the terrorist leader had been hiding. The White House said he was unarmed but resisted U.S. forces.

The White House also won't release images of bin Laden's burial at sea, press secretary Jay Carney said. He said Mr. Obama made the decision after consulting with his national security team.

Separately, the Reuters news agency published photos that it said were taken about an hour after the U.S. assault on the bin Laden compound. The agency said the photos show three dead men lying in pools of blood. None appears to be bin Laden.

Reuters said it bought the photos from a Pakistani security official who had taken the pictures and who wished to remain anonymous.

Within the Obama administration, the decision to withhold photos of bin Laden's body didn't appear to be unanimous. On Tuesday, Central Intelligence Agency Director Leon Panetta had predicted that the photos ultimately would be released.

"The bottom line is that, you know, we got bin Laden, and I think we have to reveal to the rest of the world the fact that we were able to get him and kill him," he told NBC News.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were among those making the case to withhold the photos, a senior Obama administration official said.

Outside the administration, opinion was also divided, and not along partisan lines.

"The risks of release outweigh the benefits," said Rep. Mike Rogers (R., Mich.), chairman of the House intelligence committee, who said he had seen the photos. "Conspiracy theorists around the world will just claim the photos are doctored, anyway, and there is a real risk that releasing the photos will only serve to inflame public opinion in the Middle East."

But Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) disagreed with Mr. Obama's decision. He said the purpose of sending U.S. forces into the compound, rather than bombing it from the air, had been to obtain proof of bin Laden's death.

"I know bin Laden is dead. But the best way to protect and defend our interests overseas is to prove that fact to the rest of the world," he said.

Debra Burlingame, whose brother Charles was a pilot aboard one of the hijacked planes on Sept. 11, 2001, said holding back the photos showed too much respect toward enemies of the U.S. But Peter Gadiel, whose son James died at the World Trade Center, said, "Personally, I don't care. He's dead, and that's enough for me."

—Devlin Barrett and Julian E. Barnes contributed to this article.

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