President Obama made the only decision that makes any sense in deciding not to release the photos of the body of bin Laden. That decision though based on pragmatism, namely that the DNA and other evidence was conclusive that it was bin Laden, and that if they released the photos it wouldn't satisfy the professional Obama bashers who would just claim that the photos were doctored anyway, and that there release could inflame some Muslim hardliners who might take retaliatory action against US personnel. These are pragmatic and compelling reasons for not showing the gruesome kill.
But there is another reason that Obama did not state. The wild, and frankly, repelling scenes of some Americans shouting, dancing in the streets and high fiving the death of Osama was not a celebration of patriotism or emotional catharsis that Osama was dead. True patriotism celebrates and extols the values of tolerance, diversity, freedom of expression, and a denunciation of bigotry. The avalanche of racist tweets, and racial epithets from some bloggers, and the gloats from some rightwing talk show hosts, mocked true American patriotism. The supposed joy and relief that countless Americans said they felt and that the polls reflected at bin Laden's take down, had little to do with their emotional connection or even interest in bin Laden. He had been on the lam for a decade, and his name had long ceased to be an object of daily mention, or seeming concern by the Bush administration and much of the media. Apart from the families, friends and associates of the thousands killed in the 9/11 terror attacks, and the trauma and emotional scars they carried from the deaths of their loved ones, bin Laden was little more than a name from the past to most Americans. And that was particularly true of college students who seemed to use the news of bin Laden's death as more of a campus cheer session, pep rally and party, than an expression of any serious concern, let alone understanding, of what bin Laden and 9/1 really meant.
President Obama understood that and was careful to place the Obama killing as a national security priority, in the overall framework of the war on terrorism. He took great pains to add that the killing was not a war on Muslims, and that this should not be used as an excuse to finger point Muslims. Releasing the pictures of a dead bin Laden would have simply played to and reinforced the spirit of vengeance and prurient bloodlust that unfortunately is still much a part of the thinking of far too many Americans.
It would have reduced the killing to that of a gladiator joust in which kills are measured by the amount of bodily mayhem the combatants can wreak on each other. This would make the bin Laden killing simply a freak, sideshow spectacle, and totally negate the point of why the US went after him in the first place. True, part of it was to see that justice was done. But part of it was also pure vengeance for the 9/11 attacks. But Obama smartly was careful not to publicly feed into that in his announcement that bin laden was dead.
In the days to come, Obama will hear the loud chorus from many quarters that Americans deserved to have a parade of the bloody pictures of bin Laden splattered in front of them as their trophy for the kill. And there will be endless criticism that by not releasing the pictures this in some way deprives the country of having final satisfaction in seeing the corpse of their number one terror nemesis to gawk at, and this cheats the country of real closure.
It does no such thing. The killing of bin Laden brought a close to one sad, tragic, and painful episode in American history. That should be satisfaction enough. The photos of his corpse would turn the satisfaction many feel at the removal of bin Laden into a cheap, voyeuristic and degrading spectacle.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is host of the weekly Hutchinson Report Newsmaker Hour on KTYM Radio Los Angeles streamed on ktym.com podcast on blogtalkradio.com and internet TV broadcast on thehutchinsonreportnews.com
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