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Bin Laden alive? To debunk latest myth, White House near release of photo.

The US had reasons to bury Osama bin Laden at sea. But now conspiracy theories are cropping up that he is not dead, adding to domestic pressure on the US to release a photo of his body.

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President Obama said in releasing his official birth certificate last week that he wanted to put an end to the “silliness” of the birthplace controversy. No one in the White House was calling the debate over bin Laden’s picture silly, however.

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The seriousness was underscored by the spreading rumors in Pakistan and Afghanistan that the news of bin Laden’s death was an elaborate American lie.

IN PICTURES: Osama bin Laden death: reaction

“This news is only coming from one side, from Obama’s office, and America has not shown any evidence or proof to support this claim,” said Afghan Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid in a statement released Tuesday. “Our sources close to Osama bin Laden,” he continued, “have not confirmed or denied the news.”

Some members of Congress said some proof should be released to nip such rumors in the bud, while others said the families of 9/11 victims deserved the “closure” that a picture of a dead bin Laden would provide.

“There will be those who will try to generate this myth that he is alive,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R) of Maine.

Some media experts were also beginning to weigh in on the side of releasing some form of proof of bin Laden’s death. “Conspiracy theories are starting to germinate,” says Kelly McBride of the Poynter Institute, a journalism school and research center in St. Petersburg, Fla.

The expert in reporting and ethics says she sees two reasons justifying the release either of photos or of video evidence: to answer public doubts, and to help answer some of the lingering questions about what really took place in Sunday’s raid.

“The public in general is increasingly cynical, everybody has an experience where they accepted something that turned out not to be true,” she says. “People naturally doubt information, so this can help address those doubts.”

'Hold the powerful accountable'

At the same time, she notes that the release of visual evidence can not only address doubts but perform the journalistic function of getting at the truth.

“It helps to hold the powerful accountable,” she says.

McBride says she believes photos can be released – and published – in a “sensitive” manner. And she believes from experience that most media outlets will handle any materials released “in an appropriate manner,” although she recognizes that “at the end of the day the White House won’t have any control over” how any photos it releases are used.

Still, Senator Collins’s colleague, Sen. Marco Rubio (R) of Florida, has a different take on the issue. Speaking with reporters in Florida, he advised any doubters to simply wait for bin Laden to offer proof that the news of his death was premature.

“If he’s not [dead], let him produce a video to prove he’s not,” Senator Rubio quipped. “Because he was pretty good at doing that once upon a time.”

Controversy in death: Seven questions about Osama bin Laden’s burial at sea


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