In an interview that will air on CBS’ 60 Minutes Sunday, President Barack Obama said that he will not release post-mortem photos of Osama bin Laden to dispel conspiracy theories.
CNN and Fox News confirmed the decision Wednesday.
“It is very important for us to make sure that very graphic photos of someone who was shot in the head are not floating around as incitement to additional violence or as a propaganda tool,” the president told CBS’ Steve Kroft. “That’s not who we are. We don’t trot out this stuff out as trophies.”
“The fact of the matter is that this is somebody who was deserving of the justice he received, and I think that Americans and people around the world are glad that he is gone, but we don’t need to spike the football, and I think that given the graphic nature of these photos, it would create some national security risk, and I have discussed this with Bob Gates and Hillary Clinton and my intelligence teams, and they all agree.”
Within the administration, Defense Secretary Robert Gates opposed publication of the photos, while CIA director Leon Panetta was for it.
“I just think it’s important, they know we have it, to release it,” Panetta told PBS.
Opinions about whether to release the photos did not break down along the usual party lines in Congress.
Republican House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-MI) said Wednesday that the photos would do more harm than good.
“I don’t want to make the job of our troops serving in places like Iraq and Afghanistan any harder than it already is,” he told ABC. “The risks of release outweigh the benefits. Conspiracy theorists around the world will just claim the photos are doctored anyway, and there is a real risk that releasing the photos will only serve to inflame public opinion in the Middle East.”
But Chairman of the Homeland Security Committee Rep. Peter King (R-NY) told CNN’s Piers Morgan that transparency was important.
The government should get out the photo so it “doesn’t look as if we’re hiding anything,” he said. “I think it is important to get out the picture of his face.”
Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Sen. Susan Collins (ME), the panel’s top Republican, both agreed that the photos should be released.
“My own instinct is it’s probably necessary to release those pictures, but, you know, I will respect whatever decision the president makes,” Lieberman said.
Collins said she was convinced that the man killed was bin Laden but “I recognize that there will be those who will try to generate this myth that he’s alive and that we missed him somehow.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Tuesday that the world already had enough evidence of the al-Qaeda leader’s demise.
“I just don’t see a need to do it,” she said. “The DNA has been dispositive.”
Former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin had her own reasons for why the administration should provide further evidence.
“Show photo as warning to others seeking America’s destruction,” Palin tweeted Wednesday. “No pussy-footing around, no politicking, no drama;it’s part of the mission.”
[Note: This report was updated to include a quote from President Barack Obama.]