President Obama on Wednesday decided the photos of a dead Osama bin Laden will not be released, saying there is no reason to “spike the football” and that a gruesome image of his corpse would only serve as a propaganda tool for al Qaeda to incite violence.
Meanwhile the White House, after walking back parts of its initial narrative about the U.S. special operations forces raid that killed bin Laden and a handful of his associates, said it is finished talking about the details of the operation.
White House press secretary Jay Carney delivered news of Mr. Obama’s decision on the photos — which appeared to contradict the views of his own CIA director — after the president himself told CBS‘ “60 Minutes” there should be “no doubt” that bin Laden was killed, so releasing the photos is unnecessary.
“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,” Mr. Obama told CBS‘ Steve Kroft, according to Mr. Carney, who read part of the transcript to reporters to make sure they had the president’s own words. “That’s not who we are. We don’t trot out this stuff as trophies.”
The president noted that there inevitably will be those who will deny his death, but even critics wouldn’t be convinced by a photo “in and of itself,” he said.
Top lawmakers from both sides of the aisle said they supported Mr. Obama’s decision to keep the photos under wraps.
“I don’t want to make the job of our troops serving in places like Iraq and Afghanistan any harder than it already is,” said Rep. Mike Rogers, Michigan Republican and chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. “The risks of release outweigh the benefits. There is a real risk that releasing the photos will only serve to inflame public opinion in the Middle East.”
House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, agreed.
“In my opinion, there’s no end served by releasing a picture of someone who has been killed,” he said.
Others on Capitol Hill and elsewhere, especially Republicans, said the photos should be released, for one reason or another.
“The whole purpose of sending our soldiers into the compound, rather than an aerial bombardment, was to obtain indisputable proof of bin Laden’s death,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, calling Mr. Obama’s decision a mistake.
On her Twitter account, 2008 Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin said Mr. Obama should “Show photo as warning to others seeking America’s destruction. No pussy-footing around, no politicking, no drama; it’s part of the mission.”
Others worried that the photos would make it into the public domain sooner or later, whether at the direction of the White House or through an unauthorized leak.
Reuters news agency on Wednesday afternoon said it paid a Pakistani security official for photos of three unidentified men lying in pools of blood, which the official claimed had been taken one hour after U.S. forces left bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad with his body.