WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama said Wednesday that the U.S. will not release photos of Osama bin Laden’s corpse, saying it would amount to gloating that would only inflame anti-American sentiment and do nothing to satisfy skeptics.
“That’s not who we are. We don’t trot out this stuff as trophies,” he told CBS in an interview.
White House officials said Wednesday that other evidence of bin Laden’s death might be released eventually. That could include Navy records of the seaside burial and records of the DNA analysis and facial-recognition analysis that U.S. officials say confirmed that it was bin Laden who was killed in Monday’s raid. The terrorist leader was killed by American commandos who burst into his room and feared he was reaching for a nearby weapon, U.S. officials said.
But Obama and his administration insisted they would never release photos or videos of bin Laden’s corpse, or of the Muslim burial service conducted aboard the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson before the body was dropped into the North Arabian Sea.
The lack of hard evidence released to the public has fed a debate over whether the U.S. needs to prove that its Navy SEALs did, in fact, kill bin Laden.
The Taliban issued a statement in Afghanistan questioning the U.S. claim, saying the “Americans did not present sufficient evidence to prove their claim, and also sources close to Osama bin Laden have neither denied nor confirmed his death.”
In the Congress, several lawmakers said they saw no need to release the photos or videos.
“There’s ample proof that this was Osama bin Laden,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. “The DNA is conclusive,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., though, said it was a mistake to keep the photos secret.
“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,” he said. “I’m afraid the decision made today by President Obama will unnecessarily prolong this debate.”
Obama said he listened to arguments on both sides, then decided Wednesday.
“Keep in mind that we are absolutely certain that this was him. We’ve done DNA sampling and testing. And so there is no doubt that we killed Osama bin Laden,” he said.
“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 or as a propaganda tool.”
Moreover, he said, releasing the photos would appear as gloating, suggesting that while that would be emotionally satisfying, it would be un-American. “We don’t need to spike the football,” he said.
Obama said that there’s “no doubt among al-Qaida members that he is dead” and photos would never convince nonbelievers anyway.
“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.”
White House press secretary Jay Carney brushed aside questions about the internal debate and earlier comments from CIA director Leon Panetta suggesting it was likely photos would be released. “There was a discussion to be had about the pros and cons. And the president engaged in that discussion and made a decision,” Carney said. “The final decision was not made until today.”
Carney defended the decision to give bin Laden a Muslim burial service at sea, suggesting that said more about Americans than bin Laden.
“The respect that was shown to him and his body was far greater than the respect that Osama bin Laden showed to the victims on 9-11 or any of his other victims,” Carney said. “That’s … who we are.”
Carney also rejected any question of whether the U.S. acted legally in launching the raid to kill bin Laden in Pakistan.
“There is simply no question that this operation was lawful. Bin Laden was the head of al-Qaida, the organization that conducted the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001,” he said. “We acted in the nation’s self-defense.”