Here are the three best "theories" circling the Internet about why President Obama chose not to release the death photo of Osama bin Laden:
1) The world's most notorious terrorist didn't die at the hands of Navy SEALs, he blew himself up with a suicide vest he wore each night to bed (and there was no way to show the "bin Laden bits," which by the way is soon to be a best-selling dog food).
2) He was shot in the back of the head as he fled. (Pictures of a gaunt bin Laden in his SpongeBob SquarePants jammies would not be so good.)
3) The raid team didn't "double-tap" the 9/11 mastermind, they kneecapped him and are now holding him at a black site in Kerplakistan (a "treasure trove" of intel, indeed).
And those are the best. There are a slew of other conspiracy theories out there that are just plain insane. So let's get something straight right now: We got bin Laden. Al Qaeda says so, his wife says so, his daughter says so. And Pakistan, who shielded him for upwards of seven years, is miffed - more proof. Even if our government refuses to release a single shred of evidence, the bottom line remains: We got bin Laden.
Conspiracy theories are almost always absurd. We didn't land on the moon? Wouldn't there be, like, 300 people out there who could prove that? George W. Bush took down the World Trade Center so he could start a war? (Building 7! Building 7!). Yeah, sure, a U.S. president killed 3,000 Americans so he could invade Iraq. Please. Barack Obama wasn't born in America? OK, that one was kinda weird, and every once in a while, conspiracy theories make more sense than the official version (see JFK, assassination of).
Still, why all the intrigue over the killing of bin Laden? Simple. The narrative as told by the White House and top administration officials keeps changing. Things just don't add up.
For example, say you're commander in chief, and you've just given the order to fly an elite team of SEALs into a sovereign country to execute an enemy. Would you really head out to the golf course for a quick nine holes, leaving your top aides in the Situation Room to handle the "details"?
And there's another one: Just what were they all watching in the Situation Room in that famous White House-released photo?
"We had real-time visibility into the progress of the operation," counterterrorism chief John Brennan boasted on Monday. By midweek, a new story: CIA chief Leon E. Panetta said they didn't see any of the raid, only some live shots as the kill team made its approach. They didn't see anything.
And then there's the whole issue of "shots fired." The first report of that came directly from the president, late Sunday evening: "After a firefight, they killed Osama bin Laden." He didn't say bin Laden was necessarily "in" the firefight, but the construction of the sentence certainly implied that. That story also changed considerably. It turns out, they now said, that bin Laden wasn't armed, and that there wasn't really a firefight. Oh, and that thing about bin Laden cowering behind a woman? Yeah, also wrong. Sorry 'bout that.
White House spokesman Jay Carney didn't help. By Tuesday, flustered and hopelessly lost in the ever-changing narrative, he said, "even I'm getting confused."
A reporter asked him, "Were you in the room?" "Was I in the picture?" said a testy Mr. Carney.
By mid-week, he stopped correcting the narrative altogether, instead sending reporters to the Pentagon for more accurate information.
But without the picture, there will always be the perception that Mr. Obama was too concerned with "sensitivities," even ordering a Muslim funeral at sea. Imagine the poor sap who got that order: "Son, you just killed bin Laden. Now go wash his body."
There will always be this conclusion: Mr. Obama cared more about Muslim perception than closure for the families of the 3,000 Americans killed on Sept. 11. Most of them never saw the bodies of their loved ones: They disappeared in the rubble. Others have the images of their loves one seared in their brains. Why not replace that with a dead bin Laden? More, can a single picture really alter the hard facts? We killed an unarmed man in cold blood. He was a mass murderer, so no problem there, but it just doesn't seem plausible that a photo would further inflame Muslim anger.
In the end, though, none of that matters. Odd that Americans have to turn to al Qaeda for confirmation of bin Laden's death, but so be it. Bin Laden is dead, and one day, a long time from now, those pictures will emerge. But until then, the conspiracy theories will continue. And President Obama will have no one to blame but himself.
c Joseph Curl covered the White House and politics for a decade for The Washington Times. He can be reached at jcurl@washingtontimes .com.
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