President Barack Obama said in a television interview on Wednesday he decided not to release photos of Osama bin Laden’s body because it could incite violence and be used as an al Qaeda propaganda tool.
“We’ve done DNA sampling and testing and so there was no doubt we had killed Osama bin Laden,” Obama told CBS’s “60 Minutes” program, according to an excerpt released by the White House. “The fact is you will not see bin Laden walking on this Earth again.”
The Obama administration had been wrestling with whether to release photos of a dead bin Laden, who was killed in a U.S. raid on his Pakistani compound on Monday, and the president said he and his advisers agreed the images should not be made public.
“It is important for us to make sure that very graphic photos of someone who was shot in the head are not floating around as an incitement to additional violence or as a propaganda tool,” Obama said. “That’s not who we are. We don’t trot out this stuff as trophies.”
Kelly Ayotte, a US senator who has seen a picture, said: “I saw a photo of him deceased, the head area. Obviously he had been wounded. I can’t give any better description than that. When you see the picture, it clearly has his features.”
The president made his comments in an interview Wednesday with CBS television’s “60 Minutes”. Presidential spokesman Jay Carney read the president’s quotes to reporters in the White House briefing room, ahead of the program’s airing.
“The fact is this was someone who was deserving of the justice he received,” said Obama. “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 risks.”
Asked about his response to some people in Pakistan saying the United States was lying about having killed bin Laden, Obama said: “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.”
Photos taken by the Navy SEAL raiders show bin Laden shot in the head, numerous officials have said. CIA Director Leon Panetta said on Tuesday he expected at least one photo to be released. Asked about that, Carney said the decision had not been made at that time.
Some family members of those who died in the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks thought it important to document bin Laden’s death, as did some skeptics in the Arab world who doubted his demise in the absence of convincing evidence.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican, said in a statement that Obama’s decision was a mistake: “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.”
“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,” he added.
But many other lawmakers and others expressed concerns that the photographic images could be seen as a “trophy” that would inflame U.S. critics and make it harder for members of the American military deployed overseas to do their jobs.
Obama’s decision on the photos came a day ahead of his planned visit to ground zero in New York City to lay a wreath and visit with 9/11 families and first responders.
It also came after a revised description of the circumstances of bin Laden’s death. After initially saying the terrorist was armed or even firing, the White House said on Tuesday that bin Laden was unarmed, raising questions about the basis for his killing.
Jay Carney said that the SEAL team that raided the compound where bin Laden was living in Abbottabad, Pakistan, had the authority to kill him unless he offered to surrender, in which case the team was required to accept the surrender.
“Consistent with the laws of war, bin Laden’s surrender would have been accepted if feasible,” said Carney. Officials have said bin Laden resisted, though they have not offered further details.
Meanwhile, the SEALS involved in the daring raid are in the Washington area for debriefing, and U.S. officials have begun to comb through the intelligence trove of computer files, flash drives, DVDs and documents that the commandos hauled out of the terrorist’s hideaway.
Bin Laden had about 500 euros sewn into his clothes when he was killed and had phone numbers with him when he was killed, U.S. officials said, a possible indication that the terrorist mastermind was ready to flee his compound on short notice.
Eric Holder, the US attorney general, said that killing bin Laden had been “lawful and consistent with our values”. He added: “It was justified as an act of national self-defence.”
“If he had surrendered, attempted to surrender, I think we should obviously have accepted that, but there was no indication that he wanted to do that and therefore his killing was appropriate.” [via The Telegraph (UK), Yahoo! News, Daily Mail and CBS News]