By the time you read this column, the big question posed, dissected and spun by the media and requiring a response from the Obama administration will have been overtaken by events. The photos of the late Osama bin Laden's will have been deemed appropriate for release or not, by proper authority or, worst case, leaked by fools excusing themselves under the guise of "the people's right to know" or merely seeking notoriety.
Make no mistake about it: President Obama's order to "terminate with extreme prejudice" the architect of the World Trade Center's destruction and the murder of more than 3,000 innocents was both courageous and warranted. Bin Laden, along with Adolph Hitler, Hideki Tojo, Saddam Hussein, Rafael Trujillo and history's other murderous thugs, richly deserved his fate at the hands of U.S. Navy SEALs and supporting special operations forces.
As a retired Marine, I am not surprised by the detailed planning, precise execution and uncommon courage displayed by those who accomplished this mission flawlessly and casualty-free in approximately 40 minutes on the ground. And, our oft-maligned intelligence community has regained our respect in the clandestine gathering, sorting and evaluating the data that made success possible — all without compromise of security. This is a proud moment.
However, as to the question of releasing photographs of this slain enemy combatant, the answer must be an unalterable and resounding no. As a combat veteran, one who has experienced the horrific and tragic deaths of friend and foe alike, I am appalled that anyone would advocate the display of a dead enemy — any dead enemy — as a trophy of war. Let us leave that desecration to the barbarians we fight to cleanse the civilized world.
To those, in government as well as the media, who pose the caveat that releasing the photos might inflame hostile fanatics to retaliate, I say hogwash. Any group with a penchant for flying airplanes into buildings, strapping on explosives as human bombs to maim and kill innocents, publicly beheading journalists, etc., certainly does not need Gitmo, Abu Ghraib or a slain bin Laden to motivate its blood lust.
The withholding of the photographic details of bin Laden's death is more than justified on the grounds of human decency and the propriety of good taste. To bow to the demands of the voyeuristic, sensationalist thrill seekers, revengers and gore-loving video game players is not in the best interests of the U.S. government nor the journalist community.
The upper left hand corner of the New York Times displays the motto, "All the news that's fit to print." That posting, while not always applied with strict adherence, is one that should be the goal of all respectable and serious publications. It is that attribute which separates, or at least should, reputable news sources from supermarket tabloids or the veritable locust plague of untutored and/or unsupervised bloggers.
There is ample reason to believe that the president, advised by the secretary of defense, the secretary of state and the director of the CIA, will correctly continue to decline release of the photos by reason of their lack of propriety. One would hope The New York Times, The Washington Post and their European counterparts would also refrain from posting sensational portrayals merely to sell newspapers; however, I would not hold my breath.
There is also little doubt that some self-aggrandizing organization as WikiLeaks will see fit to acquire and print the offensive material, as will several fly-by-night pseudo-journalistic publications. It is indeed unfortunate that there exists on the fringes of society a core of individuals who, in earlier times, were devotees of public hangings, gladiator bouts and feedings of Christians to lions — lovers of gory activities without personal participation.
One can always hope that reason and decency will prevail — that the overstated and ill-advised right to know won't be sullied by overzealous and unscrupulous promoters of perverted and sensational exhibitionism. To defeat one's enemies in the cause of liberty and freedom is laudable — to exhibit the vanquished as a trophy is beneath our dignity as a nation.
J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via e-mail at JKarlUSMC@aol.com.