Obama doubles down on refusal to release bin Laden photos

The White House seems to have decided that satisfying skeptics is not worth the risk of releasing 'gruesome' photos of Osama bin Laden, which could enrage radicals.

By , Correspondent

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    A Pakistani man hangs photos of Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden taken by Pakistani photographer Mazhar Ali Khan, and displayed at National Press Club in Islamabad, Pakistan on Wednesday, May 4. People are still confused and suspicious about the killing of Bin Laden, which took place in their midst on Sunday night.
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President Obama has opted not to release photos of Osama bin Laden's body in the immediate future, putting to rest almost three days of speculation.

"There is no doubt that [bin Laden] is dead," White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters Wednesday. "Certainly there is no doubt among Al Qaeda members he is dead. We don't think a photograph in and of itself will make any difference."

Mr. Carney also said that the administration does not want to "spike the football" in celebration of bin Laden's death. "That is not who we are," he said, adding that it's important that very graphic images are not "floating around as an incitement to additional violence or as a propaganda tool."

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The decision indicates that alleviating the doubts of skeptics isn't as important to the Obama administration as concerns that the photos – which the White House describes as "gruesome" – could inflame Islamist radicals.

"What we don't want to do is to release anything that might be either misunderstood or that would cause other problems," President Obama's counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan said earlier this week, according to Reuters.

The Obama administration used facial recognition software and a DNA test to confirm that the body is bin Laden's.

According to ABC News, both Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned Obama against releasing the photos. And the number of congressional leaders who lined up behind that opinion seems to be sizable.

According to National Journal, House Speaker Sen. John Boehner (R) of Ohio, often a vocal critic of the Obama administration, said "I'm convinced. I have no doubts." Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) of Nevada and Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D) of California both also voiced support for keeping the photos under wraps. Senator Feinstein said the DNA evidence convinced her, while Sen. Reid called the desire to see the photos "morbid," according to Reuters.

ABC News also reports that Rep. Mike Rogers (R) of Michigan, head of the House's Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, has seen the images and is hesitant to release them because doing so could "endanger our troops" if there is an angry response somewhere with US troops on the ground.

"I’m a little bit reluctant. I’ll tell you why. The conspiracy theorists are going to see the pictures and find ten reasons why they think it’s someone else,” Congressman Rogers said. “I think it’s pretty common knowledge. The wives are talking, ‘Yes it was Osama bin Laden. Yes he’s dead.’ I don’t know what we gain by showing this."

Other legislators against the photos' release include Sen. Carl Levin (D) of Michigan, chairman of the armed service committee, and Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R) of Georgia, the top Republican of the intelligence committee. Both of them called for at least a delay while anger over bin Laden's death cools down, CNN reported.

But without the photos release, expressions of doubt from groups such as the Taliban are likely to continue.

"This news is only coming from one side, from Obama’s office, and American has not shown any evidence or proof to support this claim," Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said in a statement emailed to journalists. "On the other side, our sources close to Osama bin Laden have not confirmed or denied the news."

"Until there is news from sources close to Osama bin Laden it will be too early to provide any reaction," the statement said.

CIA Director Leon Panetta was one of the few US officials to speak out in support of the photos' release. He told NBC News Tuesday night that he expected at least some of them to be released.

"The government obviously has been talking about how best to do this, but I don't think there's – there was any question that ultimately a photograph would be presented to the public. Obviously I've seen those photographs. We've analyzed them and there's no question that it's Bin Laden," he said. "But the bottom line is that, you know, we got Bin Laden and I think we have to reveal to the rest of the world the fact that we were able to get him and kill him."

Obama's decision seems to be at odds with the American public. A CNN poll released May 2 indicated that 56 percent of people said the government should release the photos. Thirty-nine percent said no.

On The Christian Science Monitor's Facebook page, several readers expressed their agreement with US officials. "Osama bin Laden is dead, and until there is a substantial/credible questioning then there is no need to release an image. DNA and face verification are enough and if it not, doubters will say the image is a fake anyway," said Damon Kennedy.

In 2003, the US announced that two sons of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein were killed in a firefight. Amid doubts throughout the Arab world, the US opted to release posthumous pictures of the two men, but only after the bodies had been cleaned up by a mortician, CNN reported. That's not an option in this case because of the rapidity with which bin Laden's body was slipped into the sea.

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell told CNN he doubts releasing an image will satisfy conspiracy theorists and skeptics.

"There will be skeptics out there as you know whether in the Middle East (or elsewhere)," Mr. Powell said. "Even if you show the picture, there'll be skeptics. That's just the nature of the world. Because they'll say it was Photoshopped."

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