Obama's Decision Against Bin Laden Death Photos Release Gets Political Cover

May 4, 2011
Originally published on May 4, 2011 5:06 pm

Osama bin Laden in death continues to be one of the few unifying factors between President Obama and congressional Republicans.

Even before news emerged Wednesday afternoon that Obama had decided against releasing death photos of the arch terrorist (he was said to be leaning against it before then) Speaker John Boehner let it be known that he didn't need to see the photos to know bin Laden was dead though he didn't have an opinion one way or another on a release.

That was a strong indication that he, for one, wasn't planning on politicizing the issue.

Even better for Obama were statements by Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee who warned publicly that releasing the photos could result in putting U.S. troops in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere at greater physical risk.

Rogers issued a strong statement against releasing the photos:

"I don't want to make the job of our troops serving in places like Iraq and Afghanistan any harder than it already is. The risks of release outweigh the benefits. Conspiracy theorists around the world will just claim the photos are doctored anyway, and there is a real risk that releasing the photos will only serve to inflame public opinion in the Middle East.

"Imagine how the American people would react if Al Qaida killed one of our troops or military leaders, and put photos of the body on the internet. Osama bin Laden is not a trophy – he is dead and let's now focus on continuing the fight until Al Qaida has been eliminated."

Another thing to imagine is what would have happened if a deadly attack had been launched on U.S. troops and the photos were cited as a reason for retaliation. The president could have come under a lot of criticism.

As Rogers argued, there was very little upside to making the photos public. People inclined to distrust the government or the U.S. in particular would likely not be swayed away from such feeling by the photos. They could even see the photos as confirming their suspicions.

Meanwhile, the photos could potentially cause reactions in some places with large Muslim populations that could spiral out of control.

Besides Rogers, both Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates made points similar to Rogers' within the White House, according to news reports.

So Obama controlled what he could which was whether the photos would be released. He decided to keep them classified.

The president's decision, to some minds, puts CIA director as the odd-man out, since Panetta told reporters Tuesday evening that the death photos might eventually be released.

But Panetta also was quick to say that the decision was ultimately up to the White House, i.e., the president. So arguably, some might be making too much of what Panetta said versus what the president did.

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