Obama On Not Releasing Bin Laden Death Photos: We Don’t Need To Spike The Football

CBS News has released the portion of his upcoming 60 Minutes where he explains his decision not to release the photos of Osama bin Laden’s corpse:

In an interview with Steve Kroft for this Sunday’s “60 Minutes” conducted today, President Obama said he won’t release post-mortem images of Osama bin Laden taken to prove his death.

“It is important 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 or as a propaganda tool,” said the president.

“We don’t trot out this stuff as trophies,” Mr. Obama added. “The fact of the matter is, this is somebody who was deserving of the justice that he received.”

The president said he had discussed the issue with his intelligence team, including Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and that they agree with the decision. White House press secretary Jay Carney said Wednesday that Mr. Obama made the decision today.

In explaining his choice not to release the photo, Mr. Obama said that “we don’t need to spike the football.” He said that “given the graphic nature of these photos it would create a national security risk.”

The president told Kroft he saw the photos following the raid on the compound and knew that bin Laden had been killed.

“We discussed this internally,” he said. “Keep in mind that we are absolutely certain that this was him. We’ve done DNA sampling and testing. And so there is no doubt that we killed Osama bin Laden.”

When Kroft noted that there are people in Pakistan and elsewhere who believe bin Laden is still alive, the president said “we we monitoring worldwide reaction.”

“There is no doubt that Osama bin Laden is dead,” he said. “Certainly there is no doubt among al Qaeda members that he is dead. So we don’t think that a photograph in and of itself is going to make any difference.”

“There are going to be some folks who deny it,” he added. “The fact of the matter is, you will not see bin Laden walking on this earth again.”

Here’s the full transcript:

STEVE KROFT: Did you see the pictures?

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Yes.

KROFT: What was your reaction when you saw them?

OBAMA: It was him.

KROFT: Why haven’t you released them?

OBAMA: You know, we discussed this internally. Keep in mind that we are absolutely certain this was him. We’ve done DNA sampling and testing. And so there is no doubt that we killed Osama bin Laden. 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. You know, that’s not who we are. You know, we don’t trot out this stuff as trophies. You know, the fact of the matter is this was somebody who was deserving of the justice that he received. And I think– Americans and people around the world are glad that he’s gone. But we don’t need to spike the football. And I think that given the graphic nature of these photos, it would create some national security risk. And I’ve discussed this with Bob Gates and Hillary Clinton and my intelligence teams and they all agree.

KROFT: There are people in Pakistan, for example, who say, “Look, this is all a lie. Obama, this is another American trick. Osama’s not dead.”

OBAMA: You know, the truth is that and we — we’re monitoring worldwide reaction. There’s no doubt that Bin Laden is dead. Certainly there’s no doubt among al Qaeda members that he is dead. And so we don’t think that a photograph in and of itself is going to make any difference. There are going be some folks who deny it. The fact of the matter is, you will not see bin Laden walking on this Earth again.

So, what do you think?

Personally, I have no great need to see the photographs and given the fact that Osama bin Laden’s daughter, who was there when the raid went down, has verified that he is in fact dead, I don’t think there’s any real concern that there will be a mass movement of “Deathers” in the Muslim world. Will some people doubt that he’s dead, or doubt the official story? Yea, but that’s going to be true of any major story and, as we’ve learned with the birthers, there isn’t very much we can do about that. So, not releasing the photo because of a concern that doing so would reflect badly on the United States and possibly endanger our soldiers, then maybe that’s the right decision to make. This would seem to be especially true when the only value of releasing the photos would be to gloat.

 

 

FILED UNDER: Barack Obama, Politicians, Quick Takes, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020.

Comments

  1. mantis says:

    He’s right. Our enemies who hang American corpses from bridges as trophies are savages. We do not need to emulate them.

  2. mattb says:

    Our enemies who hang American corpses from bridges as trophies are savages. We do not need to emulate them.

    Really interesting point.

    Given how much the public hanging of the bodies of contractors fit into the argument that Muslim’s are “savages” by many commentators, it’s interesting to see the high degree of interest in releasing images of this particular body as both “proof” and “a reminder of what happens to those who F’ with us (and the US).”

  3. anjin-san says:

    Certainly Sarah Palin seems to feel that blowing bin laden’s brains out and dumping his ass in the ocean was somehow an ambiguous message to terrorists, and if we release the photos, only then will they know our mettle and fear us…

  4. Boyd says:

    After hearing some discussions about this and thinking on it for a while, I think it’s wrong for the federal government to withhold these photos. They’re government property, which means they’re our property. I’m a partial owner of those photos. I have the right to see them if I want to.

    Now, I’m all for keeping things secret when it’s appropriate. I worked in the intelligence field throughout my Navy career, and I understand the government needs to keep some secrets. I understand why the government needs to keep some secrets. The possibility that the photos might enrage certain people isn’t sufficient reason to withhold them. The claim that releasing the photos might endanger American lives doesn’t hold water, either. The significance of the photos pales in comparison to the actual killing of Bin Laden in that regard, so I think that’s one of the most hollow arguments I’ve heard.

    In the end, they’re our photos. We paid for them. And no surprise here, I’m a big opponent of the “nanny statism” behind this decision.

    You’re wrong on this one, Mr Obama. We own those photos. Let me and each of our fellow citizens see them, if we so choose, since we paid for them. Because no, you don’t know better than we do.

  5. Ron says:

    Personally, a SEAL team saying he’s dead is good enough for me.

  6. mantis says:

    Because no, you don’t know better than we do.

    He most certainly knows better than you. Don’t speak for the rest of us.

  7. wr says:

    Boyd — The White House is also paid for by our tax dollars, but that doesn’t mean you can move in tomorrow.

  8. Boyd says:

    Well, he may well know better than you, mantis. But he damn sure doesn’t know better than me.

    And wr, now you’re just being silly.

  9. mantis says:

    But he damn sure doesn’t know better than me.

    Clearly, he does. Not exactly a high bar, though.

  10. Tsar Nicholas says:

    60 Minutes is still being broadcast??

    In any event, regarding the death photos, I don’t see any legitimate need to release them. This is a totally different scenario, for example, from Uday/Qusay and Saddam. There we absolutely did need to “prove” to the Iraqis that their tormentors were dead; otherwise, it negatively would have affected the mission. With Bin Laden, however, it really doesn’t matter whether people believe or want to believe he’s alive. It’s irrelevant. All that matters is that in point of fact he’s shark bait and that the remaining leaders of al Qaeda get their tickets to paradise too.

  11. Franklin says:

    Hopefully the photos won’t be destroyed and they can be FOIA’d someday when this has blown over. That would at least be more transparent than the CIA waterboarding videos that got destroyed.

  12. tom p says:

    There is no point in releasing the photos, some will say they are photoshopped because that suits their purposes. Others will say “You are just rubbing it in our faces!” because that suits their purposes. The rest of us will say “meh”…

    We accept that he is dead because we know that the POTUS would not say he was if he was not sure… Imagine the egg on Obamas face if OBL showed up in Kandahar next week?

    As much as I wish he was going on trial I can accept that he is dead and buried at sea.

  13. tom p says:

    Hopefully the photos won’t be destroyed and they can be FOIA’d someday when this has blown over

    and I whole heartedly agree with Franklin here.

  14. Boyd says:

    Haha, mantis. You’re great with the jabs. What a jokester! Next thing you know, you’ll be calling me a racist.

    You want to provide a justification for withholding the photos? Making people angry won’t wash, as I already mentioned. What else ya got? Or do just want to stick to ad hominem?

  15. ratufa says:

    Boyd,

    In your opinion, what do you believe that Obama’s national security advisors (including those in the military) are recommending with respect to releasing the photos? I’d be surprised if they haven’t provided some input into the decision (or been asked to). While I don’t have the background you say you have, my guess would be that they’d take the cautious approach and recommend not releasing them. After all, one could make arguments (however much you think they’re weak) that releasing the photos might further inflame passions, while it’s harder to see how not releasing them might do that.

    If Obama’s national security advisors are suggesting that the photos not be released, why should he overrule them?

  16. Boyd says:

    Ratufa, there’s undoubtedly a mix of advice; some are recommending release, some are recommending keeping them hidden.

    My point is that we need to hold our government accountable to the principle of transparency (and that has nothing to do with any campaign promises). Franklin’s point about FOIA is one I’d overlooked, and should result in their ultimate release.

    But it would be nice if the President would do what’s right without having to be forced into it.

  17. mantis says:

    Sorry Boyd, you’ll have to get your death porn elsewhere.

  18. Boyd says:

    Hehe, you’re a real card, mantis. I don’t know if I’d look at a post mortem photo of Bin Laden, given the opportunity. But that’s my point: it’s for me to decide, not the government.

    I know, I know, I’ve got this warped attitude about liberty, the function of government and self-reliance. That makes me a fascist or something, I’m sure.

  19. anjin-san says:

    I know, I know, I’ve got this warped attitude about liberty, the function of government and self-reliance

    Guess you should have tracked bin laden down and killed him all by your big bad self. Then you could have seen his brains up close and personal.

  20. wr says:

    Boy, I’m learning a lot about liberty from this blog. First I find out that being free means dying in poverty without the government shackles of medicare. Now I discover that freedom is the ability to see pictures of a corpse. Who knew?

  21. mantis says:

    I know, I know, I’ve got this warped attitude about liberty, the function of government and self-reliance.

    Yes, yes you do.

  22. anjin-san says:

    We own those photos. Let me and each of our fellow citizens see them, if we so choose, since we paid for them

    Sorry, as an owner of the photos, I have decided no one can see them. Run along.

  23. Moshe Sharon says:

    So here’s what we know: 1) The White House announced that a Navy Seal team raided Osama’s residence in Pakistan; 2) They allegedly conducted a DNA analysis and confirmed that the man shot in the head is Osama but never showed us the actual result or explained where they got the prior control sample to set up the profile for a match test; 3) They announced that they took the body to an aircraft carrier and dumped it overboard after a Muslim funeral; 4) They said they have pictures but are refusing to show them to the general public. Thus we don’t know anything about Osama being dead or alive because Obama ordered the military to get rid of the body and he now refuses to show us any of the evidence that he claims the military has in its possession.

    In view of the above, I’m certain that if the Seals unwittingly killed a look-alike decoy and Osama is still alive somewhere else, he won’t wait long before appearing on AL Jazeera Television to thumb his nose at the world (G-d forbid). So, unless Osama made a deal with Obama to trade information for witness protection, in the absence of any visible shred of corroborating forensic evidence, time will tell whether the dead chicken of the sea is really Osama Bin Laden or has Obama been Lying?

  24. Betty says:

    I think we should be thinking of the many soldiers and Marines overseas. Dont show the pictures. I belive our President. Some of you don’t have kids over their fighting for all of us.