Should The Obama White House Release Photo Of Dead Bin Laden?

Posted by David Ozanich — 3 May 2011

Lots of people are clamoring for the United States White House to release the photo they took of a dead Osama bin Laden. The Obama administration is weighing whether such an action will be beneficial or harmful in the short and long runs. Here's the best argument against the release I've seen so far. From the New Yorker:

ABC News is reporting that the first image of bin Laden that the White House may show us is "bloody and gruesome, with a bullet wound to his head above his left eye." If it's released, this is the image that will instantly supplant every other account of Sunday's raid as the iconic representation of America's moment of triumph over its most wanted enemy. Is that what we want--the official equivalent of the Saddam hanging video? Did we learn nothing from the past decade about the overwhelming power of crude images of violence to define and polarize our historical moment? The Abu Ghraib photographs were unofficial documents of an official policy that was supposed to be kept secret, but if nothing else, they should have taught us that a photograph of the violence you inflict is always, in very large measure, a self-portrait. In getting rid of bin Laden, Obama has made the greatest step yet toward being able to put that era behind us. Do we want a photo of bin Laden's bullet-punctured skull to eclipse this moment?

UPDATE: The Obama administration will not be releasing the photo at this time. From the LA Times:

The White House on Tuesday continued to refuse to make public gruesome photos affirming Osama bin Laden's death, despite calls from some corners among politicians, the families of 9/11 victims and some skeptics for it to do so.

"There are sensitivities here in terms of the appropriateness of releasing photographs," said White House spokesman Jay Carney, who added that the photos of Bin Laden's corpse "could be inflammatory."

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