White House Will Not Release Bin Laden Death Photos

MSNBC is reporting that the White House has decided against releasing any postmortem photos of Osama bin Laden:

The president has decided not to release photographs of Osama bin Laden’s body, according to a senior White House official.

On the one hand, this seems to be potentially problematic to the extent it could give rise to conspiracy theories about whether bin Laden is actually dead, or how he died. On the other hand, making the photos public could potentially inflame an Islamic world that quite honestly doesn’t seem to be missing Osama bin Laden so much right now. Finally, nobody serious either in the West or in the Muslim world has come forward to claim that bin Laden isn’t really dead.

So, I can see the logic in not releasing the photos. Except for one thing. All day Monday we were told that one of the reasons that the President authorized a SEAL raid instead of using cruise missiles or bombs was so that there would be proof for the world. Now, we’re passing up the opportunity to present that truth. Seems odd to me.

Update: President Obama has spoken about his reasons for not releasing the photos.

FILED UNDER: Terrorism, US Politics, , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held 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. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Herb says:

    Or in other words, the White House would prefer that the photo is leaked rather than officially released…..

  2. Andyman says:


    I’m not so sure they wanted “proof for the world” so much as “proof for themselves”. If you bomb, there might not be a body afterwards. So you wonder if he was there, if the body was vaporized, if the body was removed, etc. And in the back of your mind you’re always wondering and waiting for the next videotape to surface.

    Now the American policymakers know for sure. The fact that everyone important in the US and abroad seem to be convinced is gravy, but not key.

  3. mantis says:

    Yeah, it wasn’t about proof for the world. It was about making sure they got him. They weren’t 100% sure he was even there before the operation was conducted.

  4. Ignacio says:

    Many points of contention indeed. An ugly photo of an ugly leader just isn’t something you want to show people. We don’t really know what those who want the photos published want out of it.

    For a good part of my youth I avoided grotesque pictures because I didn’t care for my reaction to them. I wasn’t after any such excitements. To which I guess it’s a good thing that the President will be protecting people from their own curiosity. Sure, some cope with such stuff just fine. Others, don’t.

  5. jwest says:

    Let’s not get too upset over this announcement.

    Obama’s already been from not releasing the photo to going to release them and now back to not again. As an unqualified vacillating incompetent, you can’t expect him to make a decision and stick with it. Give him a day, let him read the op-eds and he’ll change his mind three more times.

  6. mantis says:

    Obama’s already been from not releasing the photo to going to release them and now back to not again

    Really? You talked to him?

    Portion of comment in violation of site policies deleted. Argue points; don’t call names. Especially when they’re nonsensical in context

  7. Loviatar says:

    my conspiracy theory

    Bin Laden was shot in the back of the head and then shot in the face to cover up the execution. However the photos if shown would give lie to the “resisting capture” storyline. Also the reason they dumped the body in the ocean.

    White House changes Osama bin Laden account

    He said bin Laden “was not armed.” When a U.S. “assaulter” approached bin Laden, the Al Qaeda leader’s “wife” rushed the assaulter. That woman was shot but not killed, Carney said…

    Carney told reporters that “resistance does not require a firearm” but directed questions about how bin Laden “resisted” to the Pentagon

    The women rushing you is shot in the leg, but the man standing in the back of the room making no threatening gestures is shot several times in the face.

    No your honor I didn’t assault that man, he decided to beat himself in the face with my nightstick. /snark

  8. jwest says:


    You’re continuing to push closer to the edge of being totally inappropriate with your racist ranting. Please try to control yourself and limit your comments to civil conversation.

  9. mantis says:

    Comment in violation of site policies deleted. Argue points; don’t call names.

  10. Loviatar says:

    heh, looks like my conspiracy theory might have a little bit of truth to it.

    Bin Laden’s Daughter Reportedly Tells “Senior Pakistan Security Forces” Father Shot Dead Unarmed

    This much is known agreed upon: bin Laden was unarmed. The details are what some of Obama’s international and domestic critics and foes will differ on and likely emit in way that can boost their own international or domestic agendas. Here are the relevant parts of the piece:

    Senior Pakistani security officials said Osama bin Laden’s daughter had confirmed her father was captured alive and shot dead by the US Special Forces during the first few minutes of the operation carried out at the huge compound in Bilal Town, Abbottabad.

  11. An Interested Party says:

    As an unqualified, vacillating incompetent partisan hack, you can’t expect him jwest to make a decision and stick with it an honest appraisal of the president or his policies. Give him a day, let him read the op-eds and he’ll change his mind three more times and he’ll come up with more ridiculous arguments to make against this president.

  12. legion says:

    I’m torn on this issue… I have no interest in seeing such photos, but I know their absence will only be used as kindling by conspiracy nutballs.

    But then I realize – those nutballs will cling to theories whether or not the pics are released. Hell, if Obama dropped ’em tomorrow, just like his birth certificate, people would never stop claiming they weren’t doctored.

    So if you’re damned either way, might as well take the option that makes you feel better.

  13. Before this devolves into a round of personal attacks similar to what we’ve seen here recently, I’ll just remind everyone to review the comment policies and proceed accordingly.

  14. john personna says:

    I like the idea of Bin Laden disappearing into a black hole.

    It’s hard to make a Martyr when you don’t have a body, and don’t even have a photo.

  15. mantis says:

    Ok fine.


    Kindly back up your assertion that the president made up his mind about releasing the photos and then changed it.

  16. john personna says:

    (And definitely, the nutballs would be low on my list of people to impress.)

  17. jwest says:


    Due to your new, pleasant tone and the absence of any shitbird references, I find its incumbent on me to say that I was mistaken. Obama did not reverse this decision (as yet). I was inadvertently confusing it with the last episode of him reversing his decision on releasing photos:


    Of course, who could keep the decisions Obama has reversed straight, considering the number of times he’s done that. Reversing decisions to close Gitmo, where try terrorists, eliminating harsh interrogations, the use of signing statements and on and on.

    Naturally, I expect him to reverse this Bin Laden photo decision with a few days, just to keep his record of being an indecisive incompetent intact.

  18. mantis says:

    Thank you for admitting you were full of it, jwest.

  19. jwest says:


    Actually, I want to heap some praise on Obama.

    Liberals didn’t try to say the photos didn’t exist and no one is arguing that the State of Hawaii won’t allow the release, so he’s doing much better these days.

  20. Big Dawg says:

    We are so lame sometimes, let the people see the dead body and end this discussion. We act so big in letting the world Know he is dead, but we run like rabbits when our nation wants to see pictures. Wow! History showed us, German Generals being executed, and Mussolini’s body and his wifes, hanging from a rope and beaten. Justice was shown, and when we dropped the A bomb on Japan, did we appoligize, NO! Mr. President show our nation victory and not confusion.

  21. An Interested Party says:

    Mr. President show our nation victory and not confusion.

    Confusion? Do you question whether or not Bin Laden is really dead?

  22. mantis says:

    The only confused people in the US are deranged wingnuts searching desperately for a way to turn bin Laden’s death into an attack on President Obama.

    The rest of us non-necrophiliacs are fine just knowing he’s dead.