Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 10 October 2015


Published 07/05/2011

The Oval Office"THAT'S not who we are. We don't trot out this stuff as trophies."

With those words, Barack Obama tried to end the debate that followed the greatest national security feat of his presidency: namely, whether to release the grisly photos of the death of Osama bin Laden.

His administration was divided on the issue, as was Congress.

But the President felt "very strongly" the photograph should not be published.

In an interview for CBS's 60 Minutes, Mr Obama said he had seen images and was "95%" certain that the dead man was bin Laden.

But no pictures will be released because the most conclusive picture of bin Laden is also the most gruesome.

The President believed such images would only inflame anti-American feelings in the Muslim world.

Besides, even photos might not be enough. As the enduring fuss over Obama's birth certificate proves, even cast-iron documentary proof will not convince those who do not want to be convinced.

But the decision not to publish may not still a clamour that has been fuelled by the shifting accounts of what precisely happened in the al-Qaida compound.

Nor is grisliness alone sufficient justification.

Horrific images, from the beheading of US hostages by Islamic extremists to the hanging of Saddam Hussein, swirl around the internet.

And, proponents of publication contend, no one is forced to look at the images.

These days, American television routinely shows images of violent death, warning that viewer discretion is required. Why should Osama bin Laden be an exception?

They also point out that one of the reasons President Obama opted for a commando raid, rather than the less risky alternative of a bombing or Cruise-missile attack, was to make sure they could recover his body - or even take bin Laden alive.

Most powerful of all, perhaps, is the 'closure' argument.

America is where relatives of a murder-victim watch the killer die. Publication of bin Laden's death photos would, it is argued, be part of a comparable 'healing process'.

One poll showed 56% of Americans in favour of publication. In the US, numbers usually win out.

Sooner or later, the world's most-wanted man when alive will be the subject of what will surely be the world's most-viewed photo.

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