- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 4, 2011

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.

“The fact of the matter is, you will not see bin Laden walking this Earth again,” Mr. Obama told Mr. Kroft in the interview, which is set to air Sunday night.

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.

In addition, the Associated Press has threatened a legal fight, filing a Freedom of Information Act request Monday for photos of bin Laden’s body and other materials related to the raid.

Prodded by reporters, Mr. Carney on Wednesday declined to answer additional questions about the firefight in which bin Laden was killed, saying the White House has made public as much information as it can without compromising future missions.

“We’re at a point where we need to be mindful of the necessity to protect our ability in the future to go after other bad guys, perhaps in the same way we went after this one. And some of the capacity that we have, the methods that we use need to be protected and not compromised,” he said.

Mr. Carney’s announcement came after administration officials revised their initial account of the operation, telling reporters Tuesday that bin Laden was unarmed when he was shot and one of his wives was injured but not killed, contrary to an account the White House counterterrorism adviser offered the previous day.

A New York Times/CBS News poll out Wednesday showed bin Laden’s death gave Mr. Obama a considerable popularity boost, with his approval rating shooting up 11 percentage points from two weeks ago to 57 percent.

Still, on the question of releasing visual evidence, a CNN/Opinion Research Corp. survey suggested that the majority of Americans side with CIA Director Leon E. Panetta, who publicly signaled Tuesday that he supported the release of a photo. In the survey, 56 percent said the White House should make one public, and 39 percent said it shouldn’t.

In an in interview with NBC News, Mr. Panetta told anchor Brian Williams, “The government obviously has been talking about how best to do this, but I don’t think there was any question that ultimately a photograph would be presented to the public.”

Asked about the statement by Mr. Panetta — whom Mr. Obama has tapped as his next defense secretary pending Senate approval — Mr. Carney merely said a “final decision had not been made.”

Mr. Obama told CBS that he deliberated over the issue with Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and his intelligence teams, and that they all agreed with his decision.

“The fact of the matter is, this was somebody who was deserving of the justice that he received, and I think Americans and people around the world are glad he is gone,” the president said, according to Mr. Carney. “But we don’t need to spike the football.”

The president is scheduled to mark the death of bin Laden on Thursday with a trip to New York City, where he will meet with some families of victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks as well as a group of first responders, according to the White House.

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