By David M. Johnson
The first of May 2011 is now a day many Americans will remember, just as we remember September 11, 2001.
On that Sunday evening, we learned Osama bin Laden, the United States most-wanted terrorist and the mastermind behind the worst act of terrorism on U.S. soil, had been shot dead at a compound on the outskirts of Pakistan’s capital city. It took nearly 10 years to hunt down and kill the man who caused so much pain and suffering, for both Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
Now that the deed is done, many people want to see proof that the man who ordered two jumbo jets to fly into the twin towers of the World Trade Center is dead. For some, it may put to rest the loved ones who perished that September morning. They want to feel like this time, the mission George W. Bush claimed in 2003 was over, has indeed been accomplished.
But should the president release the photos of Osama Bin Laden’s corpse? Do the costs outweigh the benefits? Are the photos too gruesome to display? Will releasing the photos give closure to families of the victims? Or will they further incite groups, already hostile toward the United States, to take action?
The White House announced it will not release the photos. “We don’t trot out this stuff as trophies,” said Obama during a taping of the CBS news program “60 Minutes.”
Supporters of the decision feel the photos would provoke extremists already hell bent on destruction. Most importantly, they believe it would endanger national security and the lives of our brave men and women overseas. To be fair, our armed forces are already in harm’s way, but what purpose would releasing photos possibly serve?
What’s done is done and conspiracy theorists will never believe Bin Laden is dead, regardless of whether or not the White House releases the photos. Some people in cyberspace even believe he’s been dead for years and the government is just announcing it. But I can’t see former President Bush passing up an opportunity to say Bin Laden was killed on his watch.
Those who want the photos released say, “Wasn’t the whole purpose of a raid, instead of a bombardment of the compound, to collect indisputable evidence that Bin Laden is dead? Show us the money.”
As well, they argue it would send a message to other terrorists who are plotting against the U.S. But how much can you scare people who are already willing to blow themselves up?
Going into Pakistan after this man was a huge risk and months of planning went into the operation. We have photos taken inside the situation room illustrating just how tense it was as the president, vice president, and secretary of state watched the drama unfolding in real-time. The U.S. could not afford another Tora Bora and fail to capture him.
Choosing not to release the photos must have been a tough decision for the president and it’s one he’ll have to live with for a long time. I believe the photos will eventually be released, when authorities think it’s safe enough to do so. But even if Obama decided to make them public tomorrow, he’s still in a no-win situation.