Blocking Photos of Bin Laden’s Photos Won’t Hurt National Security, Ease Pain of 9/11

COMMENTARY | News broke yesterday that President Obama will not be releasing photos of Osama bin Laden’s dead body to the public at this time. Having listened and read varying opinions on the issue, I can confidently say that this can be boiled down to a three-point debate.

On one side, you have the people who lay claim to the freedom of information age. Our society today has been spoiled by the ease and speed at which they receive and transfer data. This can mean anything from updating their Facebook status to downloading an “App” that feeds you near real-time news informing you of the death of bin Laden while you are attending a Mets-Phillies game at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, Penn.

We live in a culture that does not just seek, but demands information: not tomorrow, not next year, but right now. And, for some, this includes post-mortem photos of bin Laden regardless of the residual consequences that may be incurred.

Second, there are the families of the victims of 9/11 who feel that they need to see the pictures for closure. Yes, for the most part they are happy to know that bin Laden is no longer a threat and justice has reigned, but they must see for themselves that this is true.

Last, there is an abundant amount of people, including the Obama administration, that feel releasing the photos will only increase retaliation by bin Laden’s followers, thus potentially inciting harm to deployed troops as well as touring Americans abroad.

What I really find disconcerting is that in light of everything that has happened recently, what is at issue here is whether or not to release a picture of a dead man. Yes, this is the information age, but does everything, even death, have to be put on display for the world to see? Just so people can forward the pictures to friends and co-workers with funny little captions about his demise or even post the gruesome images on social networking sites for all to see?

Will releasing photos of bin Laden truly give the families of the victims of 9/11 closure? Because, with all due respect to those families, seeing the photos will not change the fact that 9/11 happened. It will not change the fact that their loved ones are gone, and somehow I get the feeling that it won’t make the sting of their absence any less painful.

As for national security, I have the feeling that the retaliation the United States and her allies will incur will have less to do with the presence/absence of a photo and more to do with the fact that al-Qaida does not need a photo of a perished bin Laden as an excuse to plant yet another IED, set off another car bomb, or convince someone to be a suicide bomber. Whether they believe bin Laden to be dead or not, their mission has not changed.

That said, I think we as a society should put less focus on this issue and more on the reality of our current situation. The fact is, though bin Laden may be dead, our country is still at war, our economy is still suffering, and we need to figure out how to use this recent burst of unity and patriotism to come up with lasting solutions to these problems.


Marc Ambinder and Matthew Cooper, “Why Obama decided not to release Bin Laden photos”, National Journal

Michael Grotticelli, “New ecosystem of news spreads word of bin Laden’s death”, Broadcast Engineering

Jake Tapper, “9/11 Victims’ Families, Evidence of OBL’s Death, and the Pakistani Government: Today’s Q’s for O’s WH- 5/4/11”, ABC News