Thursday, May 5, 2011

Obama decides not to release 'graphic' bin Laden photos

Thursday, May 5, 2011

WASHINGTON ? President Obama declared Wednesday that "you will not see bin Laden walking on this earth again" but said he would not release photos of the terrorist leader's corpse as proof that he is dead.

  • President Obama, speaking Wednesday at the White House, said of the photos,

    By Carolyn Kaster, AP

    President Obama, speaking Wednesday at the White House, said of the photos, "We don't trot out this stuff as trophies."

By Carolyn Kaster, AP

President Obama, speaking Wednesday at the White House, said of the photos, "We don't trot out this stuff as trophies."

"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, as a propaganda tool," Obama told CBS' 60 Minutes in an interview to be broadcast Sunday. "You know, that's not who we are. You know, we don't trot out this stuff as trophies."

Obama's decision put an end to two days of speculation about whether the White House would release photos of the dead al-Qaeda leader or other images from the compound where he was shot on Monday or his subsequent burial at sea.

Although CIA Director Leon Panetta on Tuesday told NBC Nightly News that he didn't think there was any question that "ultimately a photograph would be presented to the public," White House press secretary Jay Carney said Obama "held this opinion very firmly."

The White House has said repeatedly that there is ample evidence that Osama bin Laden is dead: from photos, DNA sampling and facial recognition technology. "There are going to be some folks that deny it," said Obama, alluding to conspiracy theorists. But "there's no doubt that bin Laden is dead," he said. "So we don't think that a photograph in and of itself is going to make any difference."

Reaction to his decision was mostly positive. "If there was a serious doubt out there, if people were claiming he was still alive, that (would be) different," said former 9/11 Commission chairman Tom Kean, a Republican. "But it seems to me that everyone is in agreement that he's dead. So particularly if it's graphic, I don't see the necessity of it."

Carie Lemack, whose mother Judy Larocque died aboard American Airlines Flight 11 on 9/11, said, "There are people out there who are going to continue to demand proof, but I don't think that releasing the photos would give them the proof. I want to make sure nobody else dies because of this man."

Lemack plans to attend today's ceremony at Ground Zero in New York City, where Obama will lay a wreath at the site of the World Trade Center towers. Former president George W. Bush declined Obama's invitation to join him, citing a desire to stay out of the spotlight. Obama, who will not make public remarks, plans private meetings with relatives of 9/11 victims and first responders.

In Congress, the heads of the House and Senate intelligence committees also said they support keeping the images classified. "I don't think that the timing is such that something incendiary is the right thing to do." said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., chairwoman of the Senate committee. Said Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., head of the House panel: "I don't want to make the job of our troops serving in places like Iraq and Afghanistan any harder than it already is."The risks of release outweigh the benefits. Conspiracy theorists around the world will just claim the photos are doctored anyway, and there is a real risk that releasing the photos will only serve to inflame public opinion in the Middle East. ... Imagine how the American people would react if al-Qaeda killed one of our troops or military leaders, and put photos of the body on the Internet. Osama bin Laden is not a trophy he is dead and let's now focus on continuing the fight until al-Qaeda has been eliminated."

But opinion was not unanimous. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., called Obama's decision "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," he said.

Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin also disapproved. She tweeted: "Show photo as warning to others seeking America's destruction. No pussy-footing around, no politicking, no drama; it's part of the mission."

Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., had another idea: keep the images under seal for a period of time, maybe 10 years, and then make them available. "The free flow of information is not just a matter of good government, but a necessary part of our democracy," Nelson wrote in a letter to Obama.

Obama's decision to withhold the images came as the White House also stopped releasing details of the dramatic raid on bin Laden's compound. One day after officials corrected misstatements by counterterrorism czar John Brennan, who had said bin Laden had been armed and that his wife had been killed, Carney said no more details about the raid would be released because the methods used by the Navy SEALs in the operation are top-secret and that secrecy must be maintained for possible future raids.

"In terms of the operational details, we have gotten to the point where we cannot cross lines because of the necessity for preserving the methods and operational techniques and capabilities of the kinds of forces that were used in this case," he said. "We've gone to the limit of our ability to do that and still maintain some of the things we need to maintain and be kept secret."

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