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Room for Debate
Bin Laden Death Photos and Videos: Should They be Released?

| May 4, 2011

Remember them? Uday and Qusay Hussein, Saddam's sons, following their killing in July 2003.

Update: President Obama said Wednesday that he would not release images of Obama’s killing. “Mr. Obama apparently concluded that images of Bin Laden bloodied by gunshots would do little to reassure skeptics but could inflame tensions in the Muslim world. He disclosed his decision in an interview for the CBS program “60 Minutes,” part of which will be broadcast on the network’s evening news programs Wednesday,” The Times is reporting. “… officials at the Pentagon and State Department expressed qualms about releasing gruesome photos of Bin Laden’s bloodied corpse, with some arguing that the photos would not silence those who doubt that he was killed. Some lawmakers also opposed releasing the photos, arguing that doing so would serve little purpose and could endanger American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

They’re out there: photos and videos of Osama bin Laden shot, dead. Just as certain: the existence of video of the assault, plenty of it, since helmet-cams are standard operating procedure, and of bin Laden’s last moments, when he was shot, unarmed and without human shields, as the White House has now confirmed. The president and his national security staff watched the whole assault live by way of those helmet cams. There are also images and video of bin Laden’s odd NASCAR-lap burial in the Arabian Sea. The question is: should those images be released?

The question may soon be moot, at least regarding one or two still images. The White House is verging toward releasing a picture, particularly in light of the hysteria that attended Obama’s birth certificate: if he could be compelled to release his long-form document, he can certainly be compelled to release visual proof of the death of the man most wanted for ten years, in an age when, no matter how factual the evidence, absolute proof is conspiracy theories’ only silencer.

White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan tells ABC: “We are looking at releasing additional information, details about the raid as well as any other types of material, possibly including photos. We want to understand exactly what the possible reaction might be to the release of this information.”

CIA Chief Leon Panetta went further Tuesday night: “”We got Bin Laden, and I think we have to reveal to the rest of the world the fact that we were able to get him and kill him,” Panetta said.

But why just a photo or two? why not the whole trove, video included?

The predominant objection to releasing images is not a matter of “national security” but of propriety on at least a couple of counts: Watching an execution-style killing of an unarmed bin Laden, which appears to be what took place–in other words, a flawless assassination–would have all sorts of unseemly ramifications.

Second: “While the images may be newsworthy,” Al Tompkins of the Poynter Institute writes, “there are always questions of the public’s tolerance for such images and of whether the photos and videos are authentic.” But occasional objections aside, public tolerance has rarely been an issue no matter what gruesome images are shown, though a double standard has applied: dead Afghans, Iraqis and other foreigners routinely appear in pictures from war fronts. Dead American soldiers far less so, if at all in some newspapers or other media. Images of a dead Saddam Hussein, his two dead sons, of a dead Abu Musab al-Zarkawi were all shown without qualms at the time of these men’s killings.

When images of tortured prisoners at Abu Ghraib were released, the Bush administration–and, subsequently, the Obama administration–argued that national security required the images to be kept secret, and most of those images have been kept so, though the nationals security argument is usually the default argument for those who’d rather hide embarrassing truths rather than be faced with accounting for their consequences: there never was a full accounting over the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and in so-called black sites, the secret prisons the CIA ran for several years over the past decade until the Washington Post revealed their existence.

Another valid question: why should government officials, no matter how high or how robed, be the judges of what the public ought to see and ought not to see? Sanitizing the news is a problem on its face. Putting government officials in charge of the sanitizing amplifies the problem. Then again, we get what we elect: large swaths of voters are perfectly comfortable with the CIA, the Pentagon or the White House deciding what is and isn’t “appropriate” for the public’s eyes, which is as disturbing a level of comfort as some of these disturbing images may be. Room for debate.

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40 Responses for Room for Debate
Bin Laden Death Photos and Videos: Should They be Released?”

  1. Greg Lienesch says:

    yes. They need to be seen.

  2. Anne-Marie Shaffer says:

    Wow. A miracle. I actually agree with you.

  3. The Truth says:

    Release the pictures and videos and get it over with or we will here about this for weeks/months. The last thing we need is Donald Trump to start demanding for them. I can only take so much of that moron.

    As for anyone who disputes the fact that we still killed Osama bin Laden even though he wasn’t armed, remember this. This man was evil and if the tables were turned he would not hesitate to kill us. He deserved what he got and doesn’t deserve the gift of life. It’s sad to say that about any human being but this man was pure evil in every way.

    This is far from over as our fight with Al Qaeda is not over yet. I am just glad we focused our resources on finding this man rather than wasting time in Iraq like President Bush had us do for so long.

  4. Kendall says:

    Of the 2996 people that died as a result of the attacks Al Quaeda executed against us on 9/11/01, how many were armed with weapons and attempting to defend themselves? How many on the planes? How about in the towers?

    I don’t care if he was armed or unarmed. I’m just glad he’s dead and that our CIA had the foresight to gather DNA from his relatives prior to this event so they could confirm that it really was him.

  5. Diana Becker le Brun says:

    Why do we need to see them? Move on, he is gone. Let’s focus on the next mission.

  6. Teresa Grocki says:

    THIS IS A VIRUS!!!! the FBI has stated this morning NOT TO VIEW ANY PHOTOS of bin Laden from ANY news source as the ONLY ONES that will issued will be the ones the US Gov’t issues; ANYWAY, this doesn’t even look like him; IF YOU HEARD, the LEFT SIDE of his skull was blown off!!! NOT THE RIGHT

  7. The Truth says:

    Kendall: I couldn’t have said it better myself. Anyone who argues the fact that he was unarmed is blind from the truth.

    Teresa Grocki: You are correct there are several viruses going around FB and other sites but there is no virus on this website. Not really sure where you are going with this?

  8. B Stone says:

    Teresa Grocki, you need to read the caption below the pictures in this article. The article does not say these pictures are OBL. The caption says Saddam Hussein’s son’s in 2003. Did you even read the article?

  9. Julie Liberacki says:

    Why are you people showing pics while asking if we want to see them knowing that little children might b e in the viewing area of our screens…shame on you!!!!!!!!!!

  10. Pierre Tristam says:

    Julie, with respect, your children and mine don’t set the standards of what should or should not be reported. Everything is being infantilized in this society, news included. Not here. Besides, what lawmakers are doing to our children’s education system is many times more gruesome than any bloody image you’ll ever see. That warrants outrage and charges of shame.

  11. Jojo says:

    Osama had a quick death, too quick . He never felt any pain. Never forget the people we lost that were hanging on for dear life to the side of the towers and the fear that engulfed them before making the decision to jump rather than be burned. May they rest in peace.

  12. Dorothea says:

    Osama and the female who occupied the room with him had the opportunity to raise their hands in surrender. They did not do this, but rushed towards the sharpshooter to either attack or escape. Both were shot, Osama was killed. Good!

    As for releasing the pictures and videos, I have no particular desire to see them. But, as The Truth so aptly put it, if Trump starts making demands, the birthers become deathers, and the conspiracy theorists continue to doubt that Osama was killed, we should release the photos as soon as possible and not muddy the national discourse with all the nonsense. It’s bad enough listening to Dick Cheney applauding the mistaken notion that torture produced the intelligence that got Osama killed. What a crock..

  13. Jim Neuenfeldt says:

    Hmmm…. I was thinking it was Aljazeera that released the photographs of Husseins son’s and filmed the Hanging.

    • FlaglerLive says:

      The US government by way of the Coalition Provisional Authority released images of the two brothers. Media were not present at the hanging.

  14. Jim Neuenfeldt says:

    Thanks for the link. I was mistaken…
    I’m really conflicted over the thought that the photo’s or video should be released. I just kind of see it as a no win situation. I wish I could trust government to be honest (ANY GOVERNMENT) but alas I am not that naive or a Kool Aid drinker

  15. No, I do not think they should be published. I’m not appreciating even seeing these photos. People are either going to believe they are dead, nor not. Pictures are not needed. Either you trust what the government is telling you, or you don’t. Pictures are not always trustworthy anyway. Celebrating anyone’s death by exploiting them (dead or alive) is not something I would want to see promoted. It’s sad that it had to come to this. We can only hope it brings some peace to the families directly affected by 9/11. As someone who did not lose family or friend in 9/11, but who remembers the event and the disgust I felt over that horrible act of terror, I am hopeful that new people taking control of that group of people will have different directives, but I highly doubt it… so at best, this may be a temporary victory for the USA on some level…. but to what end? This is a “live by the sword, die by the sword” situation, at best. I don’t know that it teaches peace, and isn’t peace what we’re all saying we want?

  16. dlf says:

    As always these pages turn something such as the killing of Bin Laden into everything except what it was. Now it it a Cheney said this, Bush did that and our school systems are going to hell. The truth is the President did what he was elected to do, the men and women did what they were trained to do and it is over. We should be concerned about what comes next, not who was to blame, who did not do their job or the schools are going to hell because of the people WE elected. I think it is very odd we blame our elected officials for the condition of our schools, were these people elected yesterday and did the schools just go to hell tin last six months? are we talking about issues or people, smart people discuss issues and the not so smart discuss other people, mainly their faults.
    I remember seeing the filming of the reporter for the Wall Street Journal being beheaded, there was no problem with that being all over the place.

  17. Jojo says:

    I just think the whole picture thing is hypocritical in spite of the Obama administration pushing the “transparency” word around. Remember when the News Journal went to court to view the Dale Earnhardt photos. Remember the Jackson family had to fight off attempts to have Michael Jackson’s photos made public. Even today, we have to endure the face of Kaley Anthony on the 6 o’clock news every night. We stick it to ourselves every day in this country to publish photos of bizarre homicides, crashes and death. We are fascinated by gory pictures.
    Yet, I can’t understand why transparency has been shut down to appease the sensitivity of Muslims when we have vivid pictures and memories of people crashing to Ground Zero.

  18. w.ryan says:

    Release them so that the nonsense can be avoided

  19. Tom Brown says:

    @Dorothea…We do not know if bin Laden and the woman had a chance to raise their arms in surrender. Hopefully, the video will make that clear. Perhaps, as a tactic, assassination was the best and safest way to go, but many will wonder why Saddam Hussein, “butcher of Baghdad,” was accorded a trial. Why were the Nazi leaders arrested and given war-crime trials instead of being summarily executed? In any case, the execution is a great boost to the Obama re-election campaign. In a few years, if and when the records are declassified or Obama aides start publishing their memoirs, we’ll find out more about the political factors.

  20. Christie 2012 says:

    THANK YOU PRESBO!!! For you having the insight to keep Gitmo and other prisons open even after promising your your voter base they would be closed.
    THANK YOU for knowing that water boarding does get results and the world is a little safer today because of these action yet your voter base thinks differently.(Intelligence garnered from waterboarded detainees was used to track down al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and kill him, CIA Chief Leon Panetta told NBC News on Tuesday).
    And THANK YOU for knowing that extending the Bush tax cuts was the right choice even when your voter base wants you to punish the producers of this country.
    I would never vote for you, but THANK YOU for knowing that the policies President George W Bush put in place were correct. Maybe you should find a”DRILL BABY DRILL” bumper sticker next , and attach it to your 8 mile per gallon government owned SUV!!!

  21. Jennifer says:

    I believe the Navy Seals told our President and their superiors that Bin Laden is dead. They saw his dead body and had him identified.
    I believe them. No pictures needed.
    If they end up posting them fine but I do not need them to believe it.

  22. Dorothea says:

    Tom, the circumstances surrounding the captures of Saddam Hussein and the Nazi murderers were under different circumstances as there was no threat to the lives of those who captured them. Not so with the OBL compound mission. These outstanding Americans were carrying out an extraordinary and extremely dangerous mission. Also, in fact, some of the Nazis who escaped prosecution were summarily killed with no trial, and, in my opinion, justice was served.

  23. Liz McLaughlin says:

    I think for the first time I absolutely disagree with you Mr. Tristam. In fact, I was apalled when I went to your FlaglerLive website and the first thing I saw was bloodied, grusome pictures of men that I have no need or desire to see right now. I quickly scrolled down. Why do you media people feel that all your readers and viewers wish to take part in the barbaric practice of showing grusome dead bodies, I have no desire (nor do my many relatives still living and working in NYC) to see the remains of the face of evil on the front page of every rag in this country. You are appealing to the lowest common denominator of the human race. I thought you were above this kind of tawdry journalism.

    Jennifer – you are spot on! The Seals are our live witnesses. I believe them. Our government officials (of all parties) have access to the photos, videos and the DNA results; they are also our witnesses. The public does not need to see them. It is a matter for the military and national security.

    The beast is dead. This part of our national nightmare is over. There is still much work to do; lets move on and not make this another circus.

  24. Liz McLaughlin says:

    Dorothea, thank you for your response to Tom.
    As it pertains to OBL, I don’t care how Hitler, Saddam, or Casey Anthony, for that matter were treated. Bin Laden needed to be put out of his misery. Period. End of story. Tossing him in the drink – “Good Fella” style was perfect. Let him swim with the fishes.

  25. dlf says:

    With everything else we have going on, jobless claims up to 474,000 this week (CNN reported 5-5-11),business spending down,consumer spending down housing sector down,federal spending down and the only thing up was in inflation ( data from Time Magazine May 16, 2011) . We should get on with solving these problems, this issue is done and over We all want to thank the officials for doing their job. Now, lets get on to solving problems that are more important to the average American, jobs, inflation and taxes.

  26. William says:

    @ Christie 2012,

    Your ridiculous assertion that waterboarding gets results will not be allowed to stand unchallenged.

    A large contingent of intelligence/interrogation professionals have stated, on the record, that torture provides unreliable results. Most recently we have this from Lawrence Wilkerson, former Colin Powell chief of staff:

    It is ineffective and ILLEGAL! We executed people after WWII for engaging in this very activity.

    But, being the dumbya apologist you are, this truth will likely never register in what you call a brain. Therefore, why don’t you volunteer to be waterboarded, after which you can regale us with the thrilling account of your experience.

    Not that I think you have the guts to actually do it, but, hey, I could be wrong.

  27. Christie 2012 says:

    Spoken like a true liberal. No were in my post did include insults. But I would bet that you were one of the first to preach civility after the Arizona shootings.
    As far as the waterboarding, the CIA director himself said enhanced interrogations (waterboarding) were used and that useful information was gained from it. Torture has been used for centuries for these reasons. Do you think our enemies are treating our captured troops any better? Do you think Daniel Pearl would have preferred waterboarding to what happened to him? What about the 7 blackwater troops hung from a bridge after they were burned? Do you think they would have preferred waterboarding?
    Your claim is that enhanced interrogations are illegal. Yet the director of the CIA is going be promoted to Secretary of Defense. Shouldn’t he be investigated along with other agents by Holder and the DOJ.
    Tell you what William; I will volunteer for the CIA enhanced interrogations if you will volunteer for Al-Qaeda’s enhanced interrogations.

  28. Liana G says:

    And this is suppose to appease the American public because they are so convinced this is what actually happened. This after our gov’t had, in the past, released phony Bin Laden videos that were discredited by German intelligence. My we forget so soon!

    How many body doubles did Saddam have? Hitler? And just last month, Lady Gaga sent one of hers to the Garden Mall in Palm Beach to test out the area for an upcomming performance, and the mall shoppers went ballistic. They thought this person was the real deal.

    Ah, but these photos are indeed the real thing because our gov’t would not play us for fools, right?????

  29. JIM.R says:

    Last week Obama authorised drone attacks caused the deaths of 37 civilians ,mostly women and children, does that mean he is a murdering terrorist as defined by our own Govt?
    Does using the Seals as an assassination team put them in the same class as Murder Inc.?

  30. Elana Lee says:

    This is exactly what our government needs and encourages: more good citizens who believe exactly what their parental government tells them, without any need whatsoever for proof, and is comfortable in allowing them to decide what is best for us. And to let it go and move along to more important things.

    The poster above pointed out the captured American was beheaded and that was aired on TV. I saw that, and while it was disturbing, I have no doubts in my mind that it happened. I suppose my feeling at the moment is, if there is nothing to hide, then why hide the visual proof of bin Laden’s demise? I guess I’m one of the hesitant ones who does not take everything our politicians tell us at face value. For all my tax dollars that have gone into this, I would like proof, thank you very much.

  31. dlf says:

    Is the issue here that some do not believe that we killed bin Laden or we did ? I read some question by some that without pictures there is no proof, that sounds fair. Or, is the issue do we show the pictures or not? If the latter is the issue show the pictures, living in the USA you can look at them or not, you can believe or not. Lets just get on with solving the problems at hand unemployment, inflation, gas prices, taxes, out of control government spending, should I go on? In two weeks, if the press allows the story to die none of us will care one way or another, if in fact many do today.

  32. Dorothea says:

    Torture did not get the information that led to the killing of OBL. In fact, the information came a year after the torture was inflicted. It was a small, and seemingly insignificant to intelligence at the time, reference to a courier buried in voluminous documents reviewed by current intelligence agents, who pieced it together with many other tidbits of information gained from many other sources. Donald Rumsfeld’s claim of how the Bush administration used the information obtained from torture to begin the current hunt for OBL is bogus and Rumsfeld’s way of justifying his own use of torture. Surely it didn’t take ten years for this information to come to a useful fruition.

    I can’t understand how any civilized society would promote the use of torture. Not only is any information obtained questionable at best, it puts American’s in harm’s way for the long term. While brutal, dictatorial nations and terrorists organizations use torture with impunity, the use of torture is out of the realm of American values. Abu Ghraib videos incited young Arab’s’ enlistment in terrorist organizations more so than any other event.

    As for the photos proving that OBL is dead, it proves nothing, as photos and videos can easily be altered. I have full faith in Obama’s chronic and loyal opposition to uncover any meaningful duplicity on the part of the Democrats and the president. So I am content to believe that OBL’s corpse lies at the bottom of the sea.

  33. Elana Lee says:

    dlf: There probably would not have been an issue at all if the photos/videos had been shown as usual. But this event has had a somewhat secretive aspect and causes curious minds to question. Some have speculated this will turn into a binLaden-gate, in that bin Laden’s body was found dead and the opportunity was taken. If he had been dead a week, the photos would show some decomposition, right? A fast burial at sea to dispose of the body before anyone saw it, thus no proof one way or the other. At this point I don’t have an opinion either way. I think he is dead, but as to the circumstances and timeframe of his death, all we know is what we’ve been told.

  34. Liana G says:

    I hope this is not standard procedure of how the majority in that region dispose of their dead. Given all the recent carnage that’s going on in that part of the world, I hate to see what the sea looks like. And I’m not being insensitive, it’s just that a lot of disease can be spread through water contamination.

  35. dlf says:

    According to the WSJ, May 6 ,2011 former CIA Director Hayden said that as late as 2006 fully half of the government knowledge about the structure and activities of al Qaeda came from harsh interrogation. If you don’ believe it is going on today you are blind, why do we still have prison in Cuba?.Even Time Magazine May 20 issue admits that some of the information used to kill OBL was gotten by harsh methods. I guess we should tell some of the families of the World Trade Center we do not want to use harsh methods against the people who killed their family. Maybe the wife of the Wall Street Journal reporter who had his head cut off on film will understand that we should not torture anyone. The big question is; will the USA continue to give millions of dollars to A country, Pakistan, who in all likelihood was protecting OBL for the last five years, my bet is we will. Now that the Seals did their job it is time for elected officials to do their job.

  36. HSART says:

    Hey Kendall, I could not agree with you More!! I Dont care if the Dirtbag was Standing in a Corner with his Hands Up, Shoot his Sorry Ass, wich they Did!!! God Bless The Navy Seals!!!! Just Wondering if Ya Got to Watch and Listen to the “WORST” News Commentator Ive Ever Heard in My Life, Sheppard Smith??? Listen to that Sorry Waste of Human Lifeis Asking over and over How could it be Possible that a Navy Seal Shot and Killed Bin Laden while he was Unarmed, Via FOX NEWS, Are You Kidding me or What!!! Id Love to see Fox send Sheppard Smith to Afganistan, but im sure he Doesent have the B—s To Go!!!!!!

  37. Dorothea says:

    dlf, the Wall Street Journal is just another propaganda wing of Rupert Murdoch and former CIA Director Hayden’s statement is just another part of the propaganda. Call harsh interrogation just what it is, torture. Most professional and successful interrogators reject the notion of torture getting good results. If your objective is revenge, mine is not. I seek justice.

    Giving aid to Pakistan is a complex problem. As long as we maintain troops in Afghanistan, we need to get supplies to them through Pakistan. The bigger question is, do we need to maintain troops in Afghanistan. My own opinion is that we do not. As the successful OBL mission proved, using limited spot engagements to eliminate threats in Afghanistan would be more effective and efficient, plus eliminating the need to continue giving financial aid to Pakistan. The financial aid is supposed to be for the Pakistani people, not for building up an army to fight with India as Pakistan is doing.

  38. Christie 2012 says:

    Gotta love this debate. Was not that long ago many on the left were accusing our troops of being murders(Reid, Murtha). Saddam killed many more people than OBL ever did. The two scumbags pictured above did things to their own people that would make must people sick just thinking about it. I did not see GWB go a victory tour like PrezBo has after their death or their dads death.

    A great documentary from the BIO channel some years ago proved what a piece of shit these three man were and why GWB did the world as much good killing them as PrezBo did killing OLB.

    • Pierre Tristam says:

      Actually Christie, the killing of OBL only underscores the murderousness of Bush’s response both to 9/11 and to Iraq, which he conveniently tied to 9/11. More than 100,000 Iraqis were killed as a result of Bush’s war of choice in Iraq. Americans didn’t kill that many. But Bush launched that war, which has proven unnecessary since day one, and even more so now, now that Arabs are showing themselves quite capable of taking on their own murderous regimes without American assistance (mostly, anyway). You’re also forgetting Bush’s obscene display of flight-suit triumphalism on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln, among other, and many, obscenities, verbal and theatrical. It’s fashionable these days to compare Bush and Obama, calling one the other’s progeny and so on. It’s also patently inaccurate. The differences between the two men’s approach to the same wars are as different as a special ops team of 70 going into that Abbottabad compound and getting their man, without a single civilian casualty, compared to the Bush habit of answering everything with carpet-bombing (and making matters worse, incidentally, his eight years being a retardant to the results we’re finally seeing now). Obama’s war in Afghanistan is obscene, don’t get me wrong: it’s a pointless continuation of what should have never been started, and his drone campaigns in Pakistan and Yemen are illegal as hell, and so far predictably ineffective. But there’s no comparison with Bush’s mass-casualty legacy, and at least there seems to be angling for an end game, as opposed to a perpetual war for perpetual question marks, and body bags. And if you have any doubt about our troops’ proclivity for murder, when put in those situations, have a look at this story in today’s Times. A grim reminder of unnecessary hells of “our” own creation. These two wars cheapened American values and prestige and elevated Islamists and Iran to heights they’d never have otherwise scaled on their own. By all means, thanks, GWB.

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