Show the Bin Laden Corpse Photos (Update: Obama says no)

The country is still in a state of euphoric celebration from the May 1 assassination of Osama bin Laden, and America wants to see the photos of his corpse. Proof is required to put a dent in the still-popular 9/11 conspiracy theories and to maximize the demoralization of al-Qaeda and bin Laden’s sympathizers. The White House should not be deterred about concerns over Muslim “sensitivities” and should immediately release the photos that the world needs to see.

The White House has expressed fear that the publication of the photos could be “inflammatory” and has concerns over their “gruesome” nature. There are three sets of photos of Bin Laden’s corpse: one taken at the Pakistani compound, one at the airbase in Afghanistan after the raid, and one of his body prepared for burial at sea. The Obama administration is considering releasing video of the assault and is likely to release footage of bin Laden’s burial.

CIA Director Leon Panetta said, “I don’t think there was any question that ultimately a photograph would be presented to the public.” Chief counter-terrorism advisor John Brennan also said, “We are going to do everything we can to make sure that nobody has any basis to try to deny that we got Osama bin Laden.” The discussion right now appears to be about what photos to release and how to do it.

The Obama administration should not be spending so much time worrying about a backlash in reaction to the photos. There has yet to be anything near a major backlash in the Islamic world to bin Laden’s assassination. There are no mass protests or burnings of American flags, and there are few calls for retaliation. If the death of Osama bin Laden failed to cause an eruption in the Islamic world, it is highly doubtful a gory photo would be any more “inflammatory.”

The delay in releasing the photos fuels conspiracy theories. It is commonly believed in Abbottabad, where bin Laden was killed, that the entire incident has been staged. As one local lawyer said, “They’re just making it up. Nobody has seen the body.” The Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade, the military wing of Fatah, is also expressing doubts. The chairman of the parliamentary National Security and Foreign Policy Committee in Iran is also skeptical, saying that the U.S. has reported bin Laden’s death before. Another Iranian legislator says that the U.S. government killed bin Laden to prevent the world from knowing about his secret collaboration with it.

“The West was fully satisfied with bin Laden’s performance during the past years and today … it was obliged to kill him to prevent possible leakage of the priceless intelligence he had,” the Iranian official said.