White House Won't Release Osama Bin Laden Death Photos

In interview with “60 Minutes,” President Obama says, “We don't need to spike this football”

After two days of debate, President Obama has decided not to release grisly photos of Osama Bin Laden's corpse.

Obama told "60 Minutes" on Wednesday that the White House had decided not to release the photos, some of which apparently show Bin Laden with a “gaping gunshot wound to the head.”

"It is important 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," Obama told CBS News' Steve Croft in an interview that will air Sunday. "We don't trot out this stuff as trophies."

"We discussed this internally," Obama said. "Keep in mind, 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."

The president added: "We don't need to spike the football. And I think that given the graphic nature of these photos it would create some national security risk. And I've discussed this with [Defense Secretary Robert] Gates and [Secretary of State] Hillary Clinton and my intelligence teams and they all agree."

Well, not all. There appears to have been at least some debate among senior White House officials, who were split on what to do with the photos.

Also read: Forget the Death Photos: Anderson Cooper Doesn't Want Bin Laden's Name Spoken Ever Again

CIA director Leon Panetta told Brian Williams on NBC's "Nightly News" Tuesday that the White House would soon release a "proof of death" photo.

“The government, obviously, has been talking about how best to do this," Panetta told Williams, "but I don't think there was any question that ultimately a photo would be presented to the public.”

Panetta added: "The bottom line is we got Bin Laden, and I think we have to reveal to the rest of the world the fact that we were able to get him and kill him."

But ABC News senior White House correspondent Jake Tapper said on Wednesday that President Obama was "increasingly doubtful that there's a compelling reason to release a photograph of Osama Bin Laden's corpse."
 
Gates and Clinton advised the president "about concerns at the Pentagon and State Department that releasing a photograph could prompt a backlash against the U.S. for killing Bin Laden where one does not seem to currently exist."

"There don't seem to be many skeptics of Bin Laden's death in the Muslim world," Tapper reported.

The split within Obama’s own cabinet on the photo issue seems to have been the main reason for the delay in deciding what to do. Citing a senior White House official, CNN reported that the president was "never in favor of releasing the photos."

While some Republicans — including Speaker of the House John Boehner — applauded the president's decision not to make the images public, others, like Sarah Palin, denounced it.

"Show [the] photo as warning to others seeking America's destruction," Palin wrote on her Twitter feed. "No pussy-footing around, no politicking, no drama; it's part of the mission."

Ultimately, the White House did not agree.

“There are sensitivities here,” Carney told reporters at a briefing on Tuesday.

Had the photo been released, it would've been plastered on hundreds of newspaper covers, websites and TV news shows, which could have served to galvanize anti-American sentiment.

Tapper quoted an unnamed U.S. official, who said that "the only skeptics are extremists and they wouldn't be convinced by a photograph anyway … There's a tremendous risk of the photo becoming a rallying cry for attacks against U.S. soldiers, government personnel, and Americans in general."

Meanwhile, several fake Osama “death photos” have surfaced in the aftermath of the killing — including one that fooled several media organizations on Monday, like the New York Post and England's Daily Mail, Sun, Mirror and Telegraph newspapers.

The Post ran the photo on page two of its Monday edition with this caption: "The mutilated face of Osama Bin Laden, shot to death in a dring U.S. operation, pollutes the airwaves early today as his miserable, rancid corpse is displayed for the world to see."

Unfortunately for the Post, it appears that won't be happening anytime soon.

Or will it?

According to Daniel Metcalfe, former chief of the Dept. of Justice Office of Information and Privacy, a news organization could request the release under the Freedom of Information Act.

"If someone brought a FOIA complaint seeking the photo, and the government had improperly classified it," Metcalfe told Gawker, "I think the government would lose."

Not to mention there are rumors that the photos are being passed around Capitol Hill. When asked, Carney said he did not know of any photos being circulated.