The Bin Laden Photo Phrenzy

The fact that there’s a great rigmarole surrounding whether to release the photos of a dead Osama bin Laden is really quite perplexing.  Because in reality, it shouldn’t even be an issue.


Barack Obama, whose speech uplifted the nation nearly a week ago, has given a couple of reasons why he will not release the pictures. First and foremost, we hear the president saying that the pictures are gruesome, and that releasing them could incite violence from Islamic supporters.  Of course, one has to wonder if showing a dead bin Laden could make anything worse- something tells me that al Qaeda’s dormancy has more to do with lacking the ability to strike and less to do with how nice we’ve been to terrorists lately.  Nonetheless, Obama then goes on to explain that that releasing the photos won’t do anything to “prove” the death of bin Laden either, because conspiracy theorists will not relent. Here again, the logic doesn’t make a lot of sense.  The photos are evidence of bin Laden’s death, and providing evidence is the only way to prove anything.   


But while we’re considering whether the president’s reasons for withholding the photos are sound, something else escapes us. The photos are not his, so he shouldn’t get to decide what to do with them.


Imagine this scenario. A pharmaceutical company approaches a university science department, and asks it to accomplish a difficult task. Oh, I don’t know- it asks the university to find a catalyst that will expedite a particular chemical reaction. The pharmaceutical company pays them- quite well- to accomplish the task. After 10 years of diligent work and continued compensation, the university succeeds in their effort.


“We did it! We finally did it!” cries the university.


Elated, the pharmaceutical company says, “Fantastic! Now, can we have the proof?”


The university replies, “Proof? No, you don’t need that. We found the catalyst and sped up the reaction for you.”


“No, seriously,” says the pharmaceutical company. “Thanks for your work, but we paid for you to do this. You did not do us a favor. We enlisted your help and compensate you well. You owe us proof of the result.”


“No, I don’t think it would do any good to show it to you,” says the university, and the matter is put to rest.


This would be a ridiculous situation, to be sure, but Barack Obama choosing to withhold these photos is equally ridiculous.  It seems that we have lost our sense of who is in charge in this country. We enlist the assistance of our elected representatives to do our bidding, not to be patriarchal figures. We finance their efforts, including the efforts that brought down bin Laden.  The photos, therefore, belong to us- not the president.  We do not cross our fingers and ask to see something that belongs to us; we tell him to let us see it.


Personally, I don’t have any real burning desire to see the photos.  But apparently, according to some polls, over 80% of Americans would like to see them. I’m sure there are a myriad of reasons why, and I don’t care what those reasons are. What I care about are the families of those who perished in the September 11th attacks. And if they want to have a bit of closure or even a small sense of satisfaction from looking at those “gruesome” photos of a bloodied, evil murderer that caused indescribable suffering, then our president has no right to withhold them.


I feel like maybe that needs to be repeated, because too often we forget our supreme role in American government.  If the American people want the president to release the photos, the president has no right to withhold them.


William Sullivan blogs at: http://[email protected]