Promising transparency but giving every excuse under the sun, the Obama administration vigorously defended their decision to keep Osama bin Laden’s death photos secret. Citing CIA worries about increased terrorism at home and abroad, the Justice Department stubbornly rejected requests by Judicial Watch under the Freedom of Information Act to release video and photos of Bin Laden’s May 1 death at the hands of U.S. Navy Seals. Justice Dept. officials argued that releasing the photos would throw salt on a festering wound and increase the chances of terror domestically and overseas. Most terror experts expect that al-Qaeda will strike anytime, anywhere, with or without the photos. Retaliatory strikes by the Taliban and al-Qaeda have already occurred in the Afghan theater and will likely continue with or without the Pentagon’s photos and videos of Bin Laden’s death.
Judicial Watch president Tom Fitton accused the White House of making a “political decision,” insisting the photo evidence is “classified.” Whether the decision to withhold the photos is political or not, Obama’s last great surge in the polls was directly related to Bin Laden’s death. Barack jumped a full 7% but the struggling economy quickly cannibalized his success, leaving him today at around 43%. If anything, releasing the photos would, once again, remind the public about the president’s biggest military success to date. White House officials desperately need a shot in the arm to reverse Barack’s downward spiral in the polls. “The historical record of Osama bin Laden’s death should be released to the American people as the law requires,” said Fitton, rejecting White House arguments about increase terror risks. More secrecy adds to government skepticism.
Obama criticized former President George W. Bush for citing executive privilege in maintaining secrecy of White House meetings with former Vice President Dick Cheney and oil executives prior to Sept. 11. Associated Press requested DNA evidence, military contingency plans, photo evidence and a host of other materials currently deemed secret by the government. AP filed on May 2 to obtain the complete record following Bin Laden’s death. However gruesome the photos and however they increase the chance of terrorist acts, the U.S. has an obligation to set the historical record straight. Promoting more conspiracy theories does nothing to improve the White House credibility when it comes to Bin Laden’s death. Historians want to close the book on Bin Laden but can’t get closure until the record’s complete. Fanning fears about future terrorist attacks can’t hide the record.
Government bureaucrats can delay the release of classified information indefinitely but at what price. Obama has enough on his plate promoting its news jobs bill to sabotage himself promoting more secrecy. Bin Laden’s capture and death was 10 years in the making, the biggest international manhunt in U.S. history. Robbing the American people of a full historical record leaves a festering lack of closure. Despite the Pentagon mission, every American citizen had a vested interest in getting Bin Laden. Waiting nearly 10 years since Sept. 11 gave every citizen a vested interest in Bin Laden’s death. Preventing the release of Bin Laden’s crime scene photos and other evidence continue the same agony for the public seeking closure. Fears about terror acts are grossly overstated. Al Qaeda or the Taliban are already ready to attack any chink in the U.S. terrorism armor.
CIA National Clandestine Services director John Bennett fears the release of Bin Laden death photos would give the enemy more information. Calling the images “quite graphic, as they depict the fatal bullet wound to [Bin Laden] and other similarly gruesome images of his corpse,” Bennett called the disclosure dangerous to U.S. national security. Bennett’s concerns relate to the propaganda value to graphic images that would inflame terror groups loyal to Bin Laden and inclined to attack the U.S. and its allies. Publishing graphic photos could have the opposite effect, serving as a deterrent to future terrorist acts. Bin Laden’s death revealed to the world the long arm of American justice. Without the photos released, extremist groups continue to deny Bin Laden’s death, no matter how many press reports. Bennett’s grave doom-and-gloom predictions are no rationale for secrecy.
If Bin Laden died on the battlefield, photos would have been circulated around the planet. Preventing the photos from release furthers the secrecy around U.S. Special Forces and clandestine operations. Releasing the photos could put the special operations team that carried out the assault on Bin Laden’s compound at risk by making them “more readily identifiable in the future,” said Adm. William McCraven, the top officer at U.S. Special Operation Command. How Bin Laden’s photos—no matter how graphic—identify members of the special operations is anyone’s guess. Bin Laden’s death photos have no distinguishing characteristic that could possibly identify anyone other than the now dead mastermind of Sept. 11. Keeping crime scene photos from the public only spawns more conspiracy theories and promotes more suspicion and distrust in the Pentagon and U.S. government.
About the Author
John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’s editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.