Five days after being killed, Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi was finally buried at dawn in an undisclosed location in the Sahara desert. This would have been five days too late had President Obama been calling the shots. Osama bin Laden’s remains were famously disposed of within hours of his death and “eased into the sea” in conformance with Islamic practice, according to the White House. Families of the victims of bin Laden’s atrocities have to take the government’s word for it that he’s actually dead because the Obama administration continues to refuse to provide proof.
To date, no photos or video of bin Laden’s body have been released despite numerous requests and a lawsuit filed by watchdog group Judicial Watch. The Obama administration made clear in a recent response to the lawsuit that presidential preference is the driving force behind its stonewalling. Oddly for a legal brief, its very first background point of reference quoted a transcript of an interview Mr. Obama gave to “60 Minutes”: “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.” The brief additionally fretted, “The mere release of these images of Osama bin Laden could be interpreted as a deliberate attempt by the United States to humiliate the late al Qaeda leader.”
That’s political rather than legal reasoning, Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, told The Washington Times. “It fits in with the American apology tour. He thinks America shouldn’t be documenting its victory.” This president acts as if giving Americans a chance for closure through viewing the terrorist’s remains is too triumphalist - as if it’s poor form to celebrate victory over evil. Such meekness misses the point. It’s human nature to need the resolution provided by viewing a corpse.
As Dr. Daniel Strait of Asbury University explained, “We have to see the dead body for confirmation in an age of political fictions. After 9/11, one of the things that caused the most grief was the inability to bring the body back. We need to see it and rally around it in a concrete way so that grief is directed towards something solid and not merely experienced in the abstract. In particular with tyrants, there’s a need to make sure the death is real to deal with the accumulation of the emotions, fears and apprehensions.”
The Libyan people have no doubts whether Gadhafi’s reign of terror has ended. After his death, streams of the murderer’s former subjects lined up in Misrata to verify that their personal bogeyman was indeed no longer a threat. Even in an active state of decay - darkening skin and leaking fluids, according to Reuters - the curious and the fearful wanted to see for themselves that justice was done.
The best proof of victory is always the remains of the defeated foe. Much of Homer’s “Iliad” describes fighting over the bodies of Greek heroes, with reciprocal triumphs and desecrations. In modern times, most of the 34 states that use the death penalty offer victims’ families the chance to see justice served. At least they’re given the choice.
Anneke E. Green is Assistant Editorial Page Editor for The Washington Times. Follow her on Twitter: @AnnekeEGreen