Thursday, May 5, 2011 at 9:12 a.m.
President Obama made just about all the right moves when it came to killing Bin Laden.
Take a huge risk and conduct the operation despite having concrete proof that Bin Laden was even in the compound? Check.
Conduct a precise ground raid instead of an air assault? Check.
Quick burial at sea? Check.
Knock Celebrity Apprentice off the air to make the announcement? Check.
The one I don't agree with is withholding the death photo. "We don't need to spike the football," Obama said about that decision.
Of course we don't -- America is too big to gloat. But there are good reasons to release a photo. Inside, why Obama's rationale for withholding the photo is wrong.
Here's what the president said about his decision: "It is very important for us 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 -- as a propaganda tool."
That sounds perfectly reasonable, but it doesn't really hold up.
The fact is that those few Islamic extremists who are going to commit violence have already been incited and, in fact, are very easy to incite. Would a photo of this dead monster incite them any more than the fact that we killed him? Of course not (though I believe that al Qaeda members are now on the run like never before).
And does anybody really believe that the photo could be used to recruit more jihadists? If anything the photo will serve as a deterrent, a warning that this is what will happen to anyone who follows in the terrorist's footsteps.
If anything, the bloody death photo is something those left in al Qaeda will truly understand and respect. After all, aren't they the kings of releasing gruesome photos of the heads of Americans that they've cut off?
Hell, some guy in Pakistan has already sold gruesome pictures of three other men killed inside the Bin Laden compound during the operation to Reuters (click here
if you want to see them, but understand they really are graphic).
Al Qaeda isn't in this because it woke up one day and decided it hates America or Western culture -- that's just an easy myth propagated by politicians (especially Bush). For Bin Laden, who is more than happy to capitalize on religious extremism to bring in recruits, this has always been a geopolitical conflict; it's about sovereignty, America's military interests in Saudi Arabia, oil, etc.
Imagine if Saudi Arabia put a military base in Texas and provided protection for the U.S. president -- you think some folks here might be a little pissed off about it?
That isn't to excuse or pardon Bin Laden in the least. He chose to become a monster. But we might as well understand where this is coming from -- and when you look at the real issues that motivate these guys, this photo is a trifle.
So why release the photo? The paramount reason is that it's an important public document that shouldn't be withheld from the people. America is about transparency, and the government works under Freedom of Information Act laws. In fact, withholding the photo from the public is very possibly illegal. Here are two quotes about it gathered by Gawker:
"If someone brought a FOIA complaint seeking the photo, and the government had improperly classified it, I think the government would lose," said Daniel Metcalfe, former chief of the Department of Justice's Office of Information and Privacy, basically one of the foremost FOIA experts in the world.
"As far as photos of the corpse go, there's nothing I can reasonably think of that would exempt [the photos from FOIA laws] unless someone classified them," said Kel McClanahan, executive director of National Security Counselors, a law firm specializing in litigating secrecy issues.
I believe the CIA already tipped its hand that it decided the photo was not classified -- Leon Panetta was ready to release it yesterday before Obama trumped him. Last I heard, the CIA was the prime authority on what is and isn't in the interests of national security.
America is about transparency, not secrecy, and there is obviously no reason for this photo to be classified. Release the damned photo, Mr. President; it's the law.
On top of that, it will provide the final proof of Bin Laden's demise -- and bring some form of closure with it. The idea that it's too gruesome is insulting. We can handle it. As stated before, if anything it will provide a deterrent for those who might dream of following in Bin Laden's footsteps.
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