Monday, May 9, 2011

Release Bin Laden Photos? 2 Opinions

4 reasons to release bin Laden photos
by William Bennett

There are several good reasons to release the photographs of Osama bin Laden's body: First, to end the debate in the world of conspiracy theory, one the administration's countervailing story lines have helped fuel.

As Charles Krauthammer recently said, "The Middle East is a place where conspiracies live. This summer there were shark attacks in the Red Sea. The Egyptian press blamed it on the Israelis. You have to show a picture. That was the whole point of the operation: proof of death. Do it now and don't dither."

Second, for a better sense of closure on the bin Laden file. Michael Rubin has argued, "We must make terrorists understand that if they mess with us, they won't get diplomatic legitimacy; rather, they will simply sign their own death sentences."

Third, because not releasing the photos carves out an exception in our history of documenting major world events. We have shown pictures and video of the death of Saddam Hussein, his sons, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and also the pictures and video of terrible horror -- from the Holocaust to Cambodia to the beheadings of our own citizens.

As I've argued for showing more scenes and imagery from September 11, 2001, as well as imagery of various horrific attacks against Americans, it would be an odd disposition to be calling exclusively for scenes of our defeat while suppressing proofs of our victories.

But beyond all this, there has been an argument made that releasing the photographs will endanger Americans and our troops abroad, that it will enflame Islamist rage and inspire revenge killings. This is the most serious objection.

But I think it is worth pointing out there is little we do or can do that does not catalyze such rage. What, after all, was our offense on September 10, 2001?

What inspires jihadist attacks against Americans and non-Islamists are speeches by the pope, cartoons, documentaries, nuns walking down the streets of Africa and almost every other exercise of human and civil rights.

The argument that we should not release the photos in the hope that it will calm violence against innocents is to grant jihadists a veto on our public policy, and it is a veto that can never be satisfied, that will never be powerful enough.

We should not defer our rights and liberties and policies to the threats of madmen, nihilists or fascists.

It is, after all, our very existence that troubles our enemies, not the specifics of our actions -- those serve only as an excuse.

To accept this veto would be to hobble everything a free people should stand for, from the exercise of free speech and religious freedom to the right to walk down the street peaceably. We should not defer our rights and liberties and policies to the threats of madmen, nihilists or fascists. It doesn't work anyway.

In the end, the release of the photographs is not bloodlust, it is not spiking the football in a game between equals, it is instruction -- to the world and for ourselves.

William J. Bennett is the Washington fellow of the Claremont Institute. He was U.S. secretary of education from 1985 to 1988 and was director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy under President George H.W. Bush.

Obama's no-win decision on bin Laden photos
by Rick "Ozzie" Nelson

President Barack Obama faced a no-win decision over whether to release photographs of Osama bin Laden's corpse. In the short term, the president was right not to make public the graphic images, because doing so might inflame public opinion in Muslim-majority countries and actually feed support for al Qaeda's agenda.

In the longer term, however, Obama may be forced to release the photos -- with time, conspiracy theories are likely to mount, and the photos may eventually be leaked anyway. And, of course, visual proof of bin Laden's death would serve as a powerful endpoint in this chapter of American history.

There were compelling arguments on both sides of this issue. Releasing the photos would have mitigated skepticism about bin Laden's death, hopefully snuffing out any nascent conspiracy theories about the late al Qaeda leader's fate. For a president who has already been forced to dignify inane and insulting charges about his origins, the chance to avoid another round of absurdity must have been tempting.

Releasing the photos also may have had the less obvious benefit of deterrence if the images had a visceral effect on other terrorists, militants and rogue leaders. It is entirely possible that seeing the photos could lead such individuals truly to understand that their murderous ways place their lives at risk.

Finally, precedence also exists in these matters. Images of Saddam Hussein's brutal and inhumane sons, Qusay and Uday, were released during the Iraq war -- although the bodies were somewhat cleaned up -- as were photos of the terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

On the other hand, there were significant downsides to releasing the photos. For supporters of al Qaeda, images of a bloodied and disfigured bin Laden may have become a cause for additional terrorist attacks. The photos also may have angered Muslims who do not support al Qaeda, potentially making these individuals less inclined to support U.S. counterterrorism objectives.

The Obama administration's counterterrorism strategy relies on engaging the vast majority of Muslims who do not support extremist violence. Muslim anger at the U.S. would have weakened this strategy.

In the short term, the costs of releasing the photos outweighed the benefits precisely because doing so would have posed unacceptable national security risks to the U.S. Ultimately, the president's job is to keep Americans safe, and right now, this necessitates that the photos be kept under wraps.

In the coming months, though, mounting pressures are likely to test this position. Growing skepticism over bin Laden's fate could force the White House to spend valuable time defending the fact of the al Qaeda leader's death. Al Qaeda sympathizers may come to believe that bin Laden is not truly dead, thus bolstering their conviction in al Qaeda's cause.

One of the chief outcomes of bin Laden's death will be its psychological impact on both al Qaeda's opponents and supporters. Lingering doubts only serve to weaken the resolve of the former group and buoy that of the latter.

In the end, Obama made the right decision given short-term national security priorities. But we should not be surprised to see his decision come under increasing pressure in the next few months.

Rick "Ozzie" Nelson is the director of the Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a research organization.

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