Celebration Photos Just as Likely to Inflame ‘Terrorists’ as Bin Laden Death Photos
The decision to not release photos of a dead and fatally wounded Osama bin Laden rests on at tenuous set of reasons that rest purely on Beltway conventional wisdom.
The argument that the release of photos could inflame the Middle East has been made before (recall the Obama Administration blocked the release of “torture photos” in May 2009 that the ACLU was seeking to obtain through a Freedom of Information Act request). Greg Mitchell with The Nation reminds Americans of the debate that surrounded the decision to release photos of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi after his death.
Jon Stewart made a good point last night on “The Daily Show”:
We’ve been fighting this war for nearly ten years. Thousands of US deaths, tens of thousands of Iraqis have died and we’ve seen nearly zero photographic evidence of it. Member how long the media had to fight to show military coffins returning from overseas? Maybe not because you saw pictures of it the day they won the case and not since. Maybe we should always show pictures. Bin Laden, pictures of our wounded service people, pictures of maimed innocent civilians. We can only make decisions about war if we see what war actually is and not as a video game where bodies quickly disappear leaving behind a shiny gold coin.
Essentially, the key argument should not be that the photos should be released to debunk conspiracy theories (which the White House has helped fuel by not really getting all the details straight on the bin Laden killing). It shouldn’t be don’t release the photos because it will hand Republicans a victory and they won’t be satisfied and will just ask for more like Donald Trump wants to know more even though he got the president to release his long-form birth certificate.
The argument should be that Americans see the photo so they can see what they have been celebrating. They should see the image of brutality, which so many vehemently believe is justified.
What makes anyone think photos of celebration at Ground Zero or the White House on the day bin Laden was killed won’t inflame the Middle East or haven’t already provoked some cell of terrorists to plan a new scheme for attacking America?
This guy with “Rest In Hell Osama” scrawled on his body could be on a recruiting poster for al Qaeda (if they use recruiting posters).
This guy could be on a recruiting poster too. Not because he looks like he lusts for blood but because he looks like a dopey Westerner whose ideals those in al Qaeda likely despise vehemently.
Even this seemingly benign photo could inflame those who would support al Qaeda’s mission against the West. The flag-waving in celebration of the execution of a human being on their side is enough to move them to organize an attack.
The front pages of the editions of The Daily News and the New York Post that ran the day after bin Laden was killed are enough to inflame those sympathetic to al Qaeda’s cause too. The Daily News’ front page said, “Rot in Hell!” The Post’s front page cried, “Vengeance at last! US nails the bastard!” The first sentence in the Post read, “We finally got the miserable son of a bitch.”
This irresponsible tabloid journalism was being gobbled up by New Yorkers as a reasonable characterization of what went down. People hung the front pages up nearby Ground Zero and took photos of the front pages posted on a wall.
This photo of university students should have the US national security establishment frightened not because students shouldn’t be allowed to go to spontaneous and patriotic Spring Break-type events, where they act like they are at a pep rally for an upcoming football game. The photo should have those in government worried because that girl with the cigar in her mouth could easily remind the terrorists of this girl with the cigar(ette) in her mouth.
The point is not that people shouldn’t be able to go out and celebrate and mark the deaths of America’s with American flags and signs that express satisfaction. The point is, if the photos of a dead bin Laden could be a potential threat to America if released, what about the photos of people celebrating his death?
Jeremy Scahill of The Nation appeared on “The Tavis Smiley Show” to discuss how he really thinks the death of bin Laden is a “somber occasion.” He thinks Americans should reflect on the destruction that has taken place since 9/11 and those who have died in wars instead of simply treating the killing like a “sporting event.” And, he finds the celebrations give off an image of a “culture that celebrates execution.”
Additionally, Donna Marsh O’Connor, who lost her pregnant daughter on 9/11 writes:
As a family member of a young woman killed in the attacks, I want the response to the death of bin Laden to be one of somber reflection, one that marks how far we have come from the days of that attack and accounts for all we have lost—our civil rights, our trust in our government to act ethically. I want our civil liberties back, our reliance on the Constitution and the rule of law. I want, again, for my children to feel free.
Let’s take that energy and reclaim our land as the land of the free, the civilized and the just. There are dire costs to shirking this duty. We’ve just seen it in our streets.
O’Connor also states, “We should recognize the energy that came from the elimination of this criminal at the hands of the U.S. government and we should try to craft, instead, the end of the terror years.”
Back to the photos themselves, Michael Shaw at HuffingtonPost has this to say:
What the powers-that-be never get is that an erasure is not without it’s own moral baggage and trace. Disappearing the photo, given the reality that an image represents (especially these days, when in Egypt, in Libya and in Syria, we see citizens dying by the day just for the cause of pushing pictures to twitpics), the willful act of suppressing the photo, in our every more visually-mediated and documented society, equates to the intention of keeping the killing in the dark. It’s this signal, by way, this act of omission reinforced by the President’s dismissive and defensive tone, that not just insults the intelligence of the American people but actually reinforces the suspicions of the Muslim street.
By not releasing the photos, we are letting the terrorists win—just as we have been letting them win since 9/11. We are adapting our behavior and applying more restraints to freedom and transparency. Doing this likely empowers terrorists.
Release the photos. They will do the US no harm. Now, continuing the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan and continuing to support dictatorial regimes in the Middle East will.