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U.S. Won't Release Bin Laden Death Photos

  • Heather Maher

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out releasing the "gruesome" photos.

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out releasing the "gruesome" photos.

WASHINGTON -- U.S. President Barack Obama has decided not to release photographs of Osama bin Laden's dead body, saying the graphic images could be used to incite violence against Americans or be used as "a propaganda tool."

In an interview with CBS News' "60 Minutes" program, Obama said DNA testing had left "no doubt" in U.S. officials' minds that the man killed by U.S. Special Operations Forces in the May 2 attack in Abbottabad, Pakistan, was bin Laden.


The U.S. president said he and his national security team, including Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, had discussed the pros and cons of releasing the "very graphic" photographs of the body of the Al-Qaeda leader after he was shot in the head. Agreement was reached that the risk to national security was too high, Obama said, adding, "We don't trot out this stuff as trophies."

Asked about skeptics, including in Pakistan, who don't believe bin Laden is dead, Obama said, "There is no doubt that bin Laden is dead. Certainly, there is 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 to be some folks who deny it. The fact of the matter is you will not see bin Laden walking on this Earth again."

The U.S. president added, "This was someone who was deserving of the justice he received."

Before the announcement, the likelihood of the release of some photographic evidence of bin Laden's death seemed high, especially after CIA Director Leon Panetta said he expected at least one image to be released publicly.


White House spokesman Jay Carney said the decision not to release any photographic material covered any videotape that might have been made of the burial at sea that bin Laden was given shortly after his death.


"These are graphic photographs of someone who was shot in the face, or the head, rather. And it is not in our national security interest to allow those images -- as has been in the past, to be the case -- to become icons to rally opinion against the United States. The president's No. 1 priority is the safety and security of American citizens at home and Americans abroad," he said.

The reaction of Muslims worldwide to the news of bin Laden's death has been notable for its lack of condemnation. Carney said Obama's broader efforts to heal mistrust between the United States and the Muslim world would not be adversely affected by Washington's actions.


He also said bin Laden's religious views were respected after his death. "The efforts that were made to give Osama bin Laden an appropriate burial, following Islamic precepts and traditions, were considerable," he said. "I would also say that the respect that was shown to him and his body was far greater that the respect Osama bin Laden showed to the victims on 9/11, or any of his other victims."


The White House's decision to keep the graphic photos secret may not be the end of the debate. Legal experts familiar with the U.S. Freedom of Information Act say if a Freedom of Information Request is filed with the government, the material could yet become public.

The White House announcement was made the same day that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told members of Congress that the killing of bin Laden was legal. The raid, Holder said, "was justified as an action of national self-defense" against "a lawful military target."


On May 5, Obama will lay a wreath at the site of the September 11, 2001, terror attacks in New York City. He will meet with victims' families and pay his respects to those who died. But he won't make a speech, Carney said, because "the power of that requires no words."

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