Rupert Cornwell: However grisly, the American public will demand the pictures

Share
Related Topics

"That's not who we are. We don't trot out this stuff as trophies." With those words, Barack Obama yesterday tried to end the debate that followed the greatest national security feat of his presidency: namely, whether to release the grisly photos of the death of Osama bin Laden.

His administration was divided on the issue, as was Congress. But the President felt "very strongly" the photograph should not be published. In an interview yesterday for CBS's 60 Minutes, which will be aired on Sunday, Mr Obama said he had seen images, and was "95 per cent" certain that the dead man was Osama bin Laden. Facial analysis and confirmation by witnesses present in the compound, and subsequent DNA results confirmed the dead man was Bin Laden. "There is no question he is dead," the President said. "He will not walk this earth again."

No pictures will be released because the most conclusive picture of Bin Laden is also the most gruesome: bloody and, according to those who have seen it, with part of the head above one eye shot away. The President believed such grisly images would only inflame anti-American feelings in the Muslim world – and this when no one was seriously challenging the fact that Bin Laden had been killed. Why, therefore, risk putting US troops, and Americans abroad, in danger when there is no problem?

Besides, even photos might not be enough. As the enduring fuss over Obama's birth certificate proves, even after the original was made public last week, even cast-iron, documentary proof – as the President himself noted in the interview – will not convince those who do not want to be convinced.

But the decision not to publish may not still a clamour that has been fuelled, it must be said, by the shifting accounts of what precisely happened in the compound where the al-Qa'ida leader was hiding. A photograph may not be the most irrefutable form of proof. But for stark, stunning finality, nothing matches one.

Nor is grisliness alone sufficient justification. Horrific images, from the beheading of US hostages by Islamic extremists to the hanging of Saddam Hussein, swirl around the internet. The Pentagon itself released graphic photos of the corpses of Saddam's sons Uday and Qusay, showing them bruised and caked with blood after being killed in a shootout with US troops in 2003.

And, proponents of publication contend, no one is forced to look at such pictures. These days American television routinely shows images of violent death, warning that viewer discretion is required. Why should Osama bin Laden be an exception?

They also point out that one of the reasons President Obama opted for a commando raid rather than the less risky alternative of a bombing or cruise-missile attack on the compound was to make sure they could recover an identifiable body – or even take Bin Laden alive.

Most powerful of all perhaps is the "closure" argument. America is where relatives of a murder victim watch the killer die. Publication of Bin Laden's death photos would, it is argued, be part of a comparable "healing process" to lay to rest a mass-murder committed against the entire country.

One poll yesterday showed 56 per cent of Americans in favour of publication. In the US, numbers usually win out. Sooner or later, the world's most wanted man when alive, will in death be subject of what will surely be the world's most-viewed photo.



React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst - Banking - London - £550 - £650

£550 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Business Analyst - Traded Credit Risk - Investmen...

Data Insight Manager - Marketing

£32000 - £35000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based o...

Data Centre Engineer - Linux, Redhat, Solaris, SAN, Puppet

£55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A financial software vendor at the forefro...

.NET Developer

£600 per day: Harrington Starr: .NET Developer C#, WPF,BLL, MSMQ, SQL, GIT, SQ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letters: The West flounders in the Middle East morass

Independent Voices
David Tennant as Hamlet  

To vote no or not to vote no, that is the question... Although do celebrities really have the answer?

David Lister
All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

Radio 1’s new top ten

The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans