Obama not releasing photos of dead bin Laden

May 5, 2011 Issues: Killing of Osama bin Laden

By CHUCK BENNETT and DAN MANGAN

May 5, 2011

The gruesome images of Osama bin Laden's bloody corpse will be sealed from public view, President Obama said yesterday.

Citing a "national security risk" from a potential terror backlash by bin Laden sympathizers while appealing to America's higher values, Obama said, "We don't need to spike the football."

The decision to withhold the images, which the White House said was made yesterday morning after consultations with intelligence advisers, the Pentagon and the State Department, stunned Americans who since Monday have called for their release.

From 9/11 families seeking closure to officials wishing to stem the tide of bin Laden death deniers, they called on the president to reverse his decision.

"The whole purpose of sending our soldiers into the compound, rather than an aerial bombardment, was to obtain indisputable proof of bin Laden's death," said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC). "I know bin Laden is dead. But the best way to protect and defend our interests overseas is to prove that fact to the rest of the world."

Likewise, Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) said conspiracy theories need to be stopped in their tracks.

"The confirmation is so important. There are people in that part of the world [who] don't understand what DNA is [thinking] 'That's just a trick of the West,' " West said.

"When we showed the bodies of Uday and Qusay Hussein, that put it to rest," West said, referring to Saddam Hussein's sons killed in 2003.

But the president was firm in his decision not to release photographs showing the swift justice enacted by Navy SEAL Team Six during a lightning-strike raid on bin Laden's massive compound in Pakistan early Monday.

"It is important for us to make sure that very graphic photos of somebody who was shot in the head are not floating around as an incitement to additional violence. As a propaganda tool. You know, that's not who we are. You know, we don't trot out this stuff as trophies," Obama told "60 Minutes" correspondent Steve Kroft.

"You know, the fact of the matter is this was somebody who was deserving of the justice that he received. And I think Americans and people around the world are glad that he's gone. But we don't need to spike the football."

Obama said Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton agreed with the decision.

The move ran counter to what Obama's CIA director, Leon Panetta, indicated a day earlier when he said, "I don't think there was any question that ultimately a photograph would be presented to the public."

Asked about his response to some in Pakistan who have said the US is lying about having killed bin Laden, Obama told Kroft: "The truth is that we were monitoring worldwide reaction. 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 will make a difference. There are going to be folks who will deny it.

"The fact of the matter is, you will not see bin Laden walking on this Earth again."

The president's decision was supported by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and, reluctantly, by Rep. Peter King (R-LI), who had called for their release.

"I understand the president's decision and will not oppose it," King said. "While I have said that a photo release may be a good way to combat the predictable conspiracy theories about bin Laden's death, this is a decision for the president to make, and I respect his decision."