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Releasing the photos of bin Laden

There is a court battle underway regarding the potential release of photos of Osama bin Laden after he was ventilated and returned to room temperature in the raid on his hooch in Pakistan. I am usually a 100% supporter of keeping secrets secret, but I have to question that strategy and the government's reasoning in this case.

Photos and videos of Al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden after he was killed in May in a U.S. military/Central Intelligence Agency raid in Pakistan should not be released publicly because they would reveal military and intelligence secrets and could lead to violence against U.S. personnel, the Obama administration argued in papers filed in federal court in Washington late Monday night.

In the same way that release of Abu Ghraib photos inflamed public opinion, these pics could do the same. Like it or not there are plenty of folks around the world who admired bin Laden and thought it was great that he was taking it to the Great Satan. So even though the fact that we killed him has been widely broadcast, visual images can generate a visceral response that words simply can't.

But there is considerable skepticism about the circumstances of his death. While I understand why we don't want to allow his carcass to become a fetishized point of worship, we also dumped his body in the ocean and just asked the world to take our word that we whacked him fairly and then fed him to the sharks. kind of a tough sell to large parts of the world where our credibility is a little slim. Those areas are the same ones where we fight the war of ideas about radical Islam v. freedom as the better way of life. Plus they are areas where the idea of the Strong Horse being the one to follow hold considerable sway, a concept bin Laden himself used against us regarding our cut and run from Lebanon in 1982 after Hezbollah killed hundreds of Marines.

So there are fair arguments for and against releasing the photos, but I think there is possibly an overriding one, that the pics make it look like bin Laden was executed. No pictures of someone shot in the head are going to be pretty. Once the life leaves a body, it turns weird looking and that alone gives people the creeps. But if the word I have heard about the photos is true and he was shot in the eye, that makes it even worse. Our eyes are our portal to the world, so we are even more disturbed about damage to them. Plus a shot that actually penetrated the eye could have caused a hydraulic wave that blew brain matter and other things back out the entrance wound.If they used frangible ammo (lead powder bullets) or some other specialty rounds there might not have even been an exit wound, or a smaller one than expected. This could make it appear that he was shot from behind and the eye was the exit wound. The execution theory is already floating around so if the photos support it, that could be a reason for holding on to them 

If the administration holds fast, then the courts should support the right to keep these things secret. Public interest is not a strong enough reason to overturn that vital precedent. But politically and in the media this will be an issue as long as the photos have not been seen.