Yesterday, President Obama announced that Americans would not be allowed to see the photos taken of Osama bin Laden’s corpse by the Navy SEAL assault team that killed him. Because he is Barack Obama, he announced this decision during an interview with CBS News for an episode of 60 Minutes to be broadcast on Sunday. It’s not as if the American people deserved to be told of this decision in a formal press conference that would have cut into the President’s valuable time, after Obama strung the nation along for days to wring every possible drop of attention and drama out of his deliberations.
The stated reasons for not releasing the photos were that using graphic images as a trophy would be unseemly, and would inflame the highly flammable Muslim world. “It is important 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,” Obama told 60 Minutes.
“We don’t need to spike the football,” the President added. “Given the graphic nature of these photos, it would create a national security risk.” I find it curious that the President did not disperse, or even admonish, the huge football-spiking crowds that gathered outside the White House on Sunday night.
Even as the President was announcing this decision (well, telling 60 Minutes about it, and letting them announce it) the Reuters news service posted a series of graphic photos taken within the bin Laden compound, which they purchased from a Pakistani security official. Note: if you ever need sensitive photos taken of a world-historic event, do not assign Pakistani security officials to take them.
The Reuters kill shots depict three extremely dead men lying in pools of blood, one of them close to what looks like a child’s water pistol. None of them is visibly armed (although the photos are close-ups of the head and torso area) and one of them appears to have suffered a head wound.
These photos were taken down after a couple of hours, but once Reuters realized that just doesn’t work in the Internet age, they put the photos back up. You can see them here. Warning: they are indeed very graphic images.
Aren’t these photos going to become an “incitement to violence” and “propaganda tools?” I don’t believe any positive identification of the subjects has been made, but the eternally shifting and mutating account coming from this inept Administration has been consistent in stating that the “trusted courier” who led us to bin Laden – a high-level al-Qaeda member who helped train the 9/11 hijackers – was killed in the raid, along with his brother and bin Laden’s son. Are these photos of their bodies? If so, that might not be as “inflammatory” as images of bin Laden’s messy remains, but I would think it would be quite incendiary nonetheless.
Bin Laden’s kill shot will eventually be released – Leon Panetta was right about that. It will be leaked, or forced out, sooner or later. Meanwhile, countless faked photos are flying around the Internet – some of them good enough to fool members of Congress… and God knows it’s tough to fool members of Congress. Granted that leaked and faked images aren’t equivalent to the government formally releasing photos of the bin Laden kill, but I think they’re close enough for the more flammable segments of the Muslim world.
The bin Laden photos would provide closure for Americans, and withholding them is one more insult to a public that is growing very tired of being told what it can’t handle by this arrogant, comically incompetent Administration – from graphic images to its own health care needs. More importantly, they would help to shred the mystique of bin Laden among radicalized Muslims, who are already constructing an Elvis mythology around the Once and Future King of Terror. The photos won’t “prove bin Laden is dead” – they’ll be denounced as fakes, of course – but they will plant the idea of his humiliating destruction in the minds of his devoted fans, and ideas are viral organisms.
Seeing may not always be believing, but it is always suspecting. Much of the damage President Obama fears has already been absorbed by the Reuters kill shots, and a thousand good Photoshops of bin Laden’s evacuated skull. Put the real thing out there and be done with it, and him.