US President Barack Obama said Wednesday he had decided not to release a photograph showing the body of Osama bin Laden for fear it will become a propaganda tool.
“That is not who we are. We don’t trot this stuff out as trophies,” Obama said in an interview with CBS, adding it was important to keep photographic evidence from “floating around as incitement or propaganda tool.”
“There is no doubt that Bin Laden is dead. Certainly there is … no doubt among al Qaeda members that he is dead. And so we don’t think that a photograph in and of itself is going to make any difference. “The fact of the matter is, you will not see Bin Laden walking on this earth again,” Obama said, according to an excerpt of the interview read by White House spokesman Jay Carney.
Obama had consulted members of his national security team about whether to release the photo which he has seen, before taking his decision.
Carney said there had been debate within the US administration about whether to release the images, which he described as “graphic photographs of someone who was shot in the face — the head, rather.”
“It is not in our national security interests to allow those images, as has been in the past been the case, to become icons to rally opinion against the United States,” Carney said.
Bin Laden’s identity had been firmly established, Carney said, and Obama saw “no other compelling reason” to release them, given the potential for national security risks.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry defended Obama’s decision. “I believe it is absolutely the right decision,” Kerry told Reuters. “Absent some major challenge to the fact of death, there is no clamour that I can discern requiring proof of death and I think it would in fact create a kind of ghoulish exploitation that is not appropriate … could encourage repercussions…”
Senator Kelly Ayotte told reporters at the US Capitol the photo she saw confirmed Bin Laden’s identity. She said it was a facial shot and that another senator showed it to her. “I saw a photo of him deceased, the head area. Obviously he had been wounded … I can’t give any better description than that,” she said.
Ayotte spoke to reporters after CIA Director Leon Panetta gave a closed-door briefing on Bin Laden’s death to senators on the Armed Services and Intelligence committees. But there was no indication that she had seen the photo during that forum.
Other senators who attended the briefing said they had not seen Bin Laden photos.
US lawmakers disagree over whether photos of Bin Laden should be released to the public. Ayotte said they should – to help quash any doubts about whether Bin Laden was dead.
“Unfortunately, we’ve seen that in many instances around the world there can be conspiracy theories about these types of events. So I think it’s important in terms of closure, that while nobody wants to see disturbing photos, the closure aspect I think is very important.”
But House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers said releasing the photos “will only serve to inflame opinion in the Middle East.”
“Osama bin Laden is not a trophy – he is dead and let’s now focus on continuing the fight until al Qaeda has been eliminated,” he said in a statement.
White House spokesperson Jay Carney also said that President Barack Obama reserves the right to act again against top terror suspects inside Pakistan.
Carney was asked whether the president would be prepared to target fugitives again if they were on Pakistani soil, despite Islamabad’s complaints the Bin Laden raid was unauthorised and unilateral.
“He made very clear during the campaign that that was his view. He was criticised for it,” Carney said. “He maintained that that was his view and, by the actions he has taken as president, feels that it was the right approach and continues to feel that way,” he said.
During the 2008 presidential campaign, then-senator Obama said that he would order action against Bin Laden or other senior al Qaeda leaders inside Pakistan if the country’s leadership “is unable or unwilling to act.”
Published in The Express Tribune, May 5th, 2011.