And Now, the Search for the bin Laden Death Photo

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
May 4 2011 3:28 PM

And Now, the Search for the bin Laden Death Photo

In scrums and interviews on the Hill yesterday, I noticed more and more questions coming at senators about the photo of a dead Osama bin Laden. It exists; few people have seen it. And the administration does not plan to release it.

It's an unusual decision. Photos of the terminated Uday and Qusay Hussein came out very quickly after they were found dead after a raid. The same happened with Abu al-Zarqawi. The Obama administration's stated objection to releasing the photo is maddening to some, because it appears to be philosophical. Jay Carney says the United States does not want to issue a "trophy." In his interview with 60 Minutes, the president will say that he's not "spiking the ball." In other comments, the administration insists that not releasing the photo proves something about America -- we are better than the terrorists, those new medievalists who film beheadings and put them on the Internet.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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There's a real debate over that. Today it's finally become a political debate. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-SC, who had been conflicted about the quick sea burial of bin Laden because it wouldn't satisfy doubters, put out a statement today criticizing the photo decision.

I respectfully disagree with President Obama’s decision not to release the photos. It’s a mistake.  

The whole purpose of sending our soldiers into the compound, rather than an aerial bombardment, was to obtain indisputable proof of bin Laden’s death. I know bin Laden is dead. But the best way to protect and defend our interests overseas is to prove that fact to the rest of the world.

I’m afraid the decision made today by President Obama will unnecessarily prolong this debate.

On the less subtle, less bought-in side of the spectrum, Sarah Palin took to -- wait for it -- Twitter to criticize the White House .

Show photo as warning to others seeking America's destruction. No pussy-footing around, no politicking, no drama;it's part of the mission

Graham and Palin come from different wings of the GOP on foreign policy and on partisan combativeness -- Graham compromises, she doesn't. (She hasn't had to since she left office in the summer of 2009.) There's no reason to doubt their sincerity on this, because they're approaching the meaning of the photo differently than the White House is approaching it. It just happens to be the first partisan avenue of attack on the president who has -- lest we forget -- presided over the killing of Osama bin Laden.

I'm agnostic on the photo. If the issue is proof that will terrify America's enemies, then 1) nothing will do that if the killing didn't and 2) the photo will pretty obviously just spawn a new genre of conspiracy theories. There will be "deathers"* who say it was photoshopped. There will be amateurs who analyze the bullet angles and damage in the photo and contradict the official story of how Osama went down. If you want something to erase all doubt about this story, you'll be forever disappointed.

*Seriously, can we get a better term?

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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