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Obama decides not to release bin Laden death photos

Wednesday, May 4, 2011 | 3:19 p.m. CDT

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama said Wednesday he's decided not to release death photos of terrorist Osama bin Laden because the graphic nature could incite violence and create national security risks for the United States.

"There's no doubt we killed Osama bin Laden," the president said in an interview with CBS News, and there was no need to release the photographs or gloat. "There's no need to spike the football," he said.

The president said that for anyone who doesn't believe bin Laden is dead, "we don't think that a photograph in and of itself is going to make any difference."

"There are going to be some folks who deny it," Obama said. "The fact of the matter is you won't see bin Laden walking on this earth again." .

The president made his comments in an interview Wednesday with CBS' "60 Minutes". Presidential spokesman Jay Carney read the president's quotes to reporters in the White House briefing room, ahead of the program's airing.

Photos taken by the Navy SEAL raiders show bin Laden shot in the head, numerous officials have said. CIA Director Leon Panetta said Tuesday he expected at least one photo to be released. Asked about that, Carney said the decision had not been made at that time.

But Carney also said the president never doubted his position on not releasing the photos. Obama said in the interview, "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."

"I think that, given the graphic nature of these photos, it would create some national security risk," he said.

Carney said there would not be images released of bin Laden's burial at sea, either.

Some family members of those who died in the 9/11 terror attacks thought it was important to document bin Laden's death, as did some skeptics in the Arab world who doubted his demise in the absence of convincing evidence. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said in a statement that Obama's decision was a mistake.

"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," Graham said. "I know bin Laden is dead. But the best way to protect and defend our interests overseas is to prove that fact to the rest of the world."

But many other lawmakers and others expressed concerns that the photographic images could be seen as a "trophy" that would inflame U.S. critics and make it harder for members of the American military deployed overseas to do their jobs.

Obama's decision on the photos came a day ahead of his planned visit to ground zero in New York City to lay a wreath and visit with 9/11 families and first responders.

It also came after a revised description of the circumstances of bin Laden's death. After initially saying the terrorist was armed or even firing, the White House said Tuesday that bin Laden was unarmed, raising questions about the basis for his killing.

Attorney General Eric Holder, in an appearance on Capitol Hill, sought to underscore the legality of the shooting.

"Let me make something very clear: The operation in which Osama bin Laden was killed was lawful," Holder told senators Wednesday. The raid "was justified as an action of national self-defense" against "a lawful military target," he said.

Carney said the SEAL team that raided the compound where bin Laden was living in Abbottabad, Pakistan, had the authority to kill him unless he offered to surrender, in which case the team was required to accept the surrender.

"Consistent with the laws of war, bin Laden's surrender would have been accepted if feasible," said Carney. Officials have said bin Laden resisted, though they have not offered further details.

Meanwhile, the SEALS involved in the daring raid are in the Washington area for debriefing, and U.S. officials have begun to comb through the intelligence trove of computer files, flash drives, DVDs and documents that the commandos hauled out of the terrorist's hideaway.

Bin Laden had about 500 euros sewn into his clothes and phone numbers with him when he was killed, U.S. officials said, a possible indication the terrorist mastermind was ready to flee his compound on short notice.

Wednesday was not the first time Obama has had to make a consequential decision about releasing photos connected with U.S. troop actions. In 2009 he sought to block the court-ordered release of photos of U.S. troops abusing prisoners in Iraq, a reversal of position that he explained by saying the pictures could inflame anti-American opinion and endanger U.S. forces in Iraq an Afghanistan.


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