MAY 4, 2011 8:42PM

Pictures of bin Laden: worse than the three others killed?

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President Obama decided today that the pictures showing Osama bin Laden shot to death will not be released in order not to infuriate people who may be offended (and increase hostilities toward the U.S.). The responses so far appear to be mixed (see Jonathan Wolfman's latest post on this topic as an example). Some people believe that the pictures will show proof that the Obama Administration is not pulling one of the greatest cons in history (this from the same people who think Obama wasn't born in the US), while others agree with the President's decision. Still others have raised the issue that the pictures should not be used as bragging rights (rightly so).

There is an interesting twist to this story though.

Turns out, the UK's Guardian newspaper published pictures of the other people who were killed by the Navy SEAL's Team Six. You can see the graphic pictures of three men killed on the newspaper's website (the last three of the nine pictures):

Warning: Graphic Content!

Osama bin Laden compound in Abbottabad - in pictures

Are these pictures worse than the ones showing bin Laden shot in the head? It remains to be seen whether the publication of these pictures by the Guardian will make anyone angry. Personally, I believe that pictures of bin Laden would have a more negative effect than those showing his dead foot soldiers or family members.

The decision to release the pictures or not is indeed a very though one. For me, my only concern is that the pictures might be 'leaked' at some point in the future and the U.S. government will have less control over their overall impact in the rest of the world compared to officially releasing them now. On the other hand, I can already see people using the pictures on t-shirts and album covers* if they are made public. Let's not encourage that.

As I said, tough call.

Warning: Graphic Content!

*This is an album cover of the Black Metal band Mayhem, which shows a picture of the lead singer's corpse (interestingly named Dead!) after he killed himself in 1991. Lovely, eh?

figure 1 

Source: Wikipedia

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I don't think it has anything to do with how graphic it is. The point is that it's bin Laden. I think denying the enemy collateral they can use in their propaganda is a good idea. There is no value to showing the pictures. If bin Laden is not dead, he has only to show himself and say “look, I'm not dead.” And surely he would if he were around, just to taunt the U.S. and/or Obama.

Pictures of others dead are not especially interesting. No one will know those others. The pictures could be of anyone at that point. There are lots of pictures of dead people in the world. Pictures of nameless people are easy to drum up and not likely to incite.

And if Obama did post the pictures, there would be no useful value. People who wanted to deny it could say it was done in Photoshop. Certainly the technology exists. So the pictures would prove nothing and could be used against us.

I think Obama made a good call on this. I'm still not his biggest fan right now, but neither am I someone who thinks he's a bad guy. I think he has handled this particular issue quite well.
Kent: You're probably right. It's better not to release them than doing it. I still fear though that they will eventually be released using non-official channels (wikileaks?), which may make the situation worse than making them officially (and control the message). Let's hope that this never happens.
I agree with Kent - it's not graphic photos per se, but a graphic photo of a dead OBL that is likely to cause trouble. Like, nobody cares about those other schmucks. (Poor schmucks, or just schmucks?)

If the photo is leaked later, and I cannot imagine it won't happen, it may cause some problems, but probably not the outburst that might well happen if it were leaked now...
Myriad: Thanks for sharing your thoughts. When I was watching the press conference, I had the impression that they did not release the pictures because it was too gruesome. I'm pretty sure if Osama had only been shot in the chest, they would have shown pictures of his face. I'll check to see if I can find a link to the press conference.
Kent and Myriad: I found the following quote from my local TV station:

The White House had been weighing the release of a photo, in part to offer proof that bin Laden was killed during a raid on his compound early Monday. However, officials had cautioned that the photo was gruesome and could be inflammatory.
I saw some of these photos earlier in a report from Reuters. By the way, I've been a metal fan since the early '70s and Black Sabbath so I'm wondering; is a person like me too old to listen to Black Metal?
I think showing various members of Congress will suffice. No sense in ginning up the crazies -- foreign and domestic. I read there are several Photoshop versions out already. Any of those would do in a pinch.
Kent is right. If Osama still lives, we'll see him soon enough. This means there's a market for a good Osama impersonator. Maybe Michael Richards can make that his comeback vehicle.

I think if GW were still pezidunt, they'd mount Osama on a pine board and snap a derrogotype in front of the General Store. GW would go for it because he'd get to wear his Roy Rogers pajamas and hold his cap gun.
nanatehay: It’s never too late to get on the bandwagon of death/black metal groups. Here’s a piece of trivia: I was one of the first metalheads who was listening to Metallica back in… 1983 where I used to live (Kill’em All). Nobody knew who they were at the time. By ‘Master of Puppet’, they were too commercial for me… ;-)

Paul: Very good idea about Michael Richards! That should help him rejuvenate his career… Very funny!! I also agree that GWB would have most likely published the pictures (and videos of the raid).
I saw Metallica in '84 or '85 with W.A.S.P. and Armored Saint. Had no idea who any of them were but it was a great show.

the usa may have just killed jesus christ. it did the roman empire no visible harm, but things move quicker now.

obl had become a marginal figure, overtaken with the pragmatic uprisings in the maghreb. nothing like martyrdom to revive a flagging cause!
The respect shown to the body of a dead enemy is important. One of the things we most remember about Achilles is his disrespect of the body of Hector, dragging it around by the heels behind his chariot, even enraging some of The Gods.

A photograph of Bin Laden could be seen as verification, but it could also be see as a kind of disrespectful "trophy," turning Bin Laden into a sympathetic figure and angering his friends. Certainly there are a few people who should see such a photograph for the purpose of verification, but there's no reason to release it publicly.
Perhaps the Navy's death photo of Osama bin Laden reveals a bullet's exit wound on Osama's face which would indicate that Osama was shot in the back of the head...maybe he was praying, knowing his end was end was near and/or did not choose to endanger his loved ones in the room with him by putting up resistance...maybe he was gravely wounded in the chest laying on the floor and was shot in the back of the head because the assault orders were to be sure he was dead.

Surely Osama had plenty of time to arm himself before his killer(s) burst into his room ten to fifteen minutes or more after the helicopters got to the compound. There is most likely a video record of the killing made with a camera lens that is a standard attachment on special ops gear.
Thanks for everyone’s comments. I will come back and respond in greater length later today, as I have to leave for work. I have three meetings. Thus, it may be tonight.

Based on what I saw on NBC’s ‘Today’s Show’ this morning, the decision not to release the pictures is definitely mixed, both here on Capitol Hill and abroad (many other governments say that they should release them). The issue was raised that the U.S. Government always showed pictures of other terrorists (#3 Al Qaeda – they said the name on the TV, but I don’t remember it) or high value targets (the Hussein brothers as an example) who were killed in raids in the past.

You all have a nice day.
Kanuk - I think you have a good point...if the death photo were relatively 'clean', they'd likely show it, but a shattered-head or whatever would (a) not be good ID, and (b) the gruesomeness factor.
Mishima: I agree with your assessment about being respectful. It has been reported that his body treated with dignity when he buried at sea. However, as I discussed above, pictures of all previous high value targets, including #3 in Al Qaeda, have been released to the public. I’m certain that if OBL would have had his face ‘intact’, the pictures would have been made public. Thanks for dropping by.

IQ: You may be right. Now, after reading a few pieces here (Kent) and other websites, I believe that it may be better to release them now and then move on. It may create a lot of discussion for a few days, but it will die down relatively quickly. Today, I read that Panetta believes the pictures would eventually be released.

anti-terrorUSt$: I’m sure they have videos as well. The details about what happened in the compound keep changing. Hopefully, we won’t learn that he was shot in the back of the head (although many people would not care if it was the case).
Myriad: As I said in a comment on Kent's post, I'm sure that if a European government had to make the same decision, they would have released the pictures. European news don't hesitate to show gruesome pictures of war. A good example is the UK Guardian above.