U.S. government not to release photos of Osama bin Laden’s death, Elon University community shares opinion

By Marlena Chertock

May 12, 2011

An NBC poll showed a majority of Americans agreeing with the United States government’s decision not to release photos of Osama bin Laden’s death. A minority disagreed with the decision. Graphic by Marlena Chertock.

The United States government has decided not to release the photos of Osama bin Laden’s death. This decision has been met with varying opinion, but overall with support from Americans.

Most Americans, 75 percent understand why the photos are not being made public while 25 percent are unhappy with the U.S. government’s decision, according to an NBC poll released Monday.

“That’s pretty robust support for the U.S. administration’s choice,” said Jason Kirk, a an assistant professor of political science at Elon.

The U.S. government must have determined that the benefits of not releasing the photos far outweigh those for releasing them, said Rudy Zarzar, a professor of political science at Elon University.

“The government has studied the issue carefully and came to the conclusions that the costs of revealing the picture far exceed the benefits,” he said.

The costs of releasing the photos of bin Laden after he was shot could be infuriating the Arab and Muslim world, terrorist groups retaliating and possibly causing demonstrations and attacks against Americans, American tourists and officials overseas, according to Zarzar.

“It may not send a good signal,” he said. “It may send the message that we’re really gloating about the death of a person. The public, OK, but the government is something else.”

Some people will never be convinced even if photos are released, Zarzar said. He likened this to the birther movement, when there was a push for President Barack Obama to release his birth certificate so the American public could be sure he was an American citizen.

Freshman Ethan Andersen received spam e-mail with fake photos of bin Laden a few days after his death. Fake and Photoshopped photos are circulating around the Internet.

Andersen didn’t view the photos because he doesn’t like gory images, he said.

He wouldn’t want the government to release the photos officially.

“I think the whole thing was a little weird, celebrating someone’s death,” he said. “So I feel a little weird about someone publishing these photos officially.”

Graphic by Marlena Chertock.

Denard Jones, the associate director of admissions for territory management, also said he wouldn’t want to see the photos because of their possible gruesome content.

“I think they did enough confirmation for everybody,” he said.

Robin Riggins, coordinator of the welcome center for admissions, is afraid releasing the photos could put America and Americans further in harm’s way, she said.

“It’s just going to cause a whole new wave of questioning from Americans,” she said. “We should just trust that they’ve done what they’ve said that they’ve done.”

Riggins’ son, junior Wesley Fogleman, served in the marine corps. and was deployed once in Iraq from August 2009 to January 2010.

The Navy Seals that participated in the operation deserve Medals of Honor, she said.

“I think bin Laden got what he asked for, got what he deserved,” Riggins said. “But I don’t glory in it. It’s sad. But we have to do what we have to do to defend ourselves.”

Senior Delia Lloyd disagrees with the administration’s decision not to release the photos to the public.

“It just sort of makes me nervous as a citizen of the country,” she said.

She does understand why the government chose not to release the photos, she said.

“I can understand that it’s respectful not to release the pictures because the way he was killed and their culture and religion,” Lloyd said. “But at the same time I feel that the American people really need proof. We’ve heard a lot of thinking; we’ve never seen any evidence.”

Now it is key for the U.S. to focus on Pakistan, according to Kirk.

“Right now it’s all about Pakistan,” he said. “The most sensitive place right now is Pakistan. That’s where he was found. Our root out of Afghanistan is going to run through Pakistan and our relationship with Pakistan.”

Releasing the photos and how the U.S. conducted the assassination could damage U.S.-Pakistani relations at a crucial time, Kirk said.

What the U.S. government did in Pakistan embarrassed the Pakistani government, Zarzar said.

“We did the operation without their permission, they didn’t even know about it,” he said.

The atmosphere of the recent revolutions in the Middle East could create an outcry against the current government in Pakistan, according to Kirk.

“Which is not to say that I or Pakistanis have any particular love for the current Pakistani government,” he said.

If the Pakistani people blame the Pakistani government for U.S. actions, there will most likely be a violent transition of power from the Pakistani government to the military or secret police, Kirk said.

Blame should continue to be placed on the military, because they had some intelligence of bin Laden’s compound whether implicitly or ignorantly, according to Kirk.

“It’s not really my place to say, but what Pakistanis should be doing right now is looking very carefully and critically at their institutions,” he said. “Focusing critical questions on the Pakistani military, intelligence and government.”

The photos of bin Laden may not be held forever, Kirk said.

Journalists and news organizations are entitled to request the photos be made public under the Freedom of Information Act, Zarzar said. But the government and courts may still decide not to release the photos.

“Down the road I don’t think I’ll be too outraged or surprised if the photos come to light,” Kirk said. “This administration or a later one may decide to make them available.”

Not all Muslims would have misgivings about bin Laden’s death but some might, Kirk said.

“There are many reasons not to release the photos,” he said. “It could be dangerous to release the photos right now.”

For now, Kirk said this may be the best decision for America.


Rudy Zarzar, professor of political science, on photos of bin Laden

Senior Delia Lloyd on U.S. government not releasing photos of Osama bin Laden’s death

Robin Riggins on photos of Osama bin Laden’s death

Robin Riggins on people who don’t believe bin Laden was killed


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About Marlena Chertock

Marlena Chertock's first collection of poetry, On that one-way trip to Mars, is available from Bottlecap Press. Her articles have appeared in The Washington Post, Marketplace, and WTOP. Her poems and fiction has appeared in The Deaf Poets Society, Moonsick Magazine, and Paper Darts.

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