Release The Photo, Mr. Obama

By Asbury Park Press - | by Chuck Raasch
Thursday, May 5th, 2011 @ 4:01AM

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This picture is worth an awful lot more than 1,000 words.

President Barack Obama may have the right to keep pictures of a dead Osama bin Laden from the American people, but that does not make it the right decision. He’s doing it, he says, because he wants to protect Americans from the gory image of a man shot in the head, because he does not want to incite more terrorism, and because — in a curious use of a sports metaphor for such a grave topic — Americans don’t “spike the ball in the end zone.”

Release the photo, Mr. President. Americans can handle the truth.

There is no moral equivalency with the online images of decapitations or celebratory mutilations of the dead that we’ve seen from bin Laden’s terrorist kin. Releasing the photo would not be gloating, it would be providing fact and redemption to the American people who have been through a lot more than the president is ostensibly protecting them from.

And more importantly, it would be a decisive opportunity to finally look beyond bin Laden, to put a stamp of irrelevancy on him so as to get to the real significance of his death: that his legacy, not him, is what we are fighting now. Bin Laden’s dead body is not nearly as important as the body of evidence — on computers and hard drives — reportedly hauled out of that Pakistani compound by the young Americans who killed him. But by prolonging this fight over the images, the Obama White House is delaying a vital pivot to the war going forward.

As for the terrorist incitement from releasing the pictures? What more could there be? The conspiracy theories that have already cropped up over why this White House has not released the photo are enough to incite future acts of terrorism, if an excuse for such barbarity is necessary.

And if the sight of a dead bin Laden gives solace to one person whose soul has been tortured by the enduring images of 9/11 or left empty by the loss of a loved one at the hands of this killer, it’s worth it. Killing him is not closure — far from it — but the direct, irrefutable knowledge of his death may be necessary to eventually get there for many Americans. This is not about not taking a president’s word for it; it’s about Americans taking solace in the fact that this man, who has caused more pain and suffering than he ever alleviated, met his death in a way he’d have so many of the rest of us meet ours.

If the image is on a hard drive, chances are it will be leaked some day, anyway. And with all of the fakes already floating around in cyberspace — some of them believable enough to dupe U.S. senators — it will soon become possible to guarantee its authenticity in the court of public opinion.

It may be getting too late for that, given how the Obama White House has handled the communications about a successful mission.

First there was a 40-minute “firefight,” in the repetitive claims of White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, which implies bin Laden and his cohorts were firing back. Then maybe it wasn’t such a two-sided fight. First bin Laden cowardly hid behind a female human shield, then he didn’t. First one of bin Laden’s wives died, then she didn’t.

Reuters has already obtained death scenes from the house in Abbottabad, showing three male bin Laden associates shot dead. They are gory, but they are facts in an important story.

The problem with withholding images of the dead bin Laden is that the ongoing controversy over their release keeps the focus on his killing.

“The death of bin Laden is very important symbolically, but the radical Islamic movement offsprings of al-Qaida and branches of al-Qaida are everywhere, with their funding intact,” said Rachel Ehrenfeld, author of “Funding Evil, Terrorism and How to Stop It.” ”He is dead, but his legacy is well and alive. The war on terror is far from over.”

Hours after the killing was announced, John Brennan, Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser, told reporters that the bin Laden killing was “a defining moment” in the war on terror and that the SEALs had “decapitat(ed) the head of the snake known as al-Qaida.”

For the sake of world peace, let’s hope that Brennan is right, for he implies a writhing body about to die. But if you listen to terror experts like Ehrenfeld, the metaphor of bin Laden’s death is closer to killing one snake in a basket of them.

Consider this: In his last moments on Earth, the biggest terrorist of all, Adolf Hitler, feared the value of the death photo. With the Soviets closing in on Berlin at the end of World War II, he had his body burned after he committed suicide. Hitler purposely denied history a singularly powerful counterimage to all the ranting speeches, the marching Nazis, and the death camps that stained the 20th century forever.

Chuck Raasch writes from Washington for Gannett.


Categories: Cyber, Terrorist Financing, U.S. Policy

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