On Tuesday, as the White House was debating whether to release photos of Osama bin Laden's body, the Editors' Desk posted a poll asking your opinion. 78 percent of the 3,101 who responded said the photos should be made public because it would offer definite proof of bin Laden's death.
On Wednesday, President Barack Obama decided not to release the photos. In an interview to be broadcast Sunday on "60 Minutes," Obama said that "there is no doubt that bin Laden in dead" and that a photograph is not going to convince doubters. "Given the graphic nature of these photos, it would create some national security risk" to release them, Obama said.
Jack Shafer, in his media blog on the Slate website, says Obama erred. Here are a few excerpts from Shafer's argument:
It's hard to imagine that a death photo of Bin Laden would elevate al-Qaida and its supporters to some fury that his killing didn't. ...
...I don't advocate the photos' release because I think it will convince the unconvincible that Bin Laden is dead or because I desire a "trophy" or a football "spiked," as Obama puts it in his "60 Minutes" interview. I'm for the publication of the pictures because they're an essential part of the war on al-Qaida. Withholding the photos and couching their suppression in the name of national security misjudges what makes al-Qaida tick and infantilizes the nation. It also sets a precedent for "news that's too gruesome to reveal." ...
... If a nation can be trusted to view the horrors of 9/11 in real time, flip through the Abu Ghraib picture book, witness the made-for-video murder of Daniel Pearl, see images of dead Uday and Qusay on the evening news, and gaze upon pictures of dead soldiers coming home as air freight (photos that President Bush, incidentally, tried to ban in the name of managing the news), then it can be trusted to stomach the last photos of Osama Bin Laden -- and whatever turmoil those photos might cause. Why? Because that's what sort of country the United States is.
Offering a counter view is author and journalist Harold Evans. In an article on The Daily Beast website, Evans says Obama was right to censor the photos. An excerpt from his article:
There's no justification in publishing to convince those who somehow suspect that it wasn't bin Laden who died in the walled compound. They will never accept any evidence, photo, DNA, the president's testimony. They live in the fantasy world inhabited by Elvis Presley, Tupac Shakur, and the Notorious B.I.G., so there's always room for one more.
There are more serious reasons for restraint. There may be force in the president's argument that such a graphic photo could be a propaganda tool, an incitement to additional violence. Alternatively, it could deter would-be jihadists, who would have to think a little harder when they see the bloodied bodies of Osama's men killed in the firefight in the house, photos obtained by Reuters from a Pakistani security officer and rightly released on Wednesday. Those calculations apart, I'd find the exultation of exhibiting the vanquished bin Laden to be obscene, ethically not much different from the Tudors, who liked sticking heads and dismembered torsos around London, or the barbarians of al Qaeda. Obama said it well: "That's not who we are. We don't trot out this stuff as trophies." ...
... it was merely to satisfy morbid curiosity to show us the dead Lee Harvey Oswald lying on a pathologist's table, with the crude post-mortem stitches lacerating his chest. That picture was suppressed but eventually made it into print. I'd guess that the same will happen with the bin Laden and it won't do more than indulge a prurient curiosity.