Didn’t President Obama Learn Anything From the Birthers?

Why the Obama Administration is debating releasing the photos of bin Laden’s dead body is a mystery to me.

First, there has already been a precedent for releasing photos of dead insurgents and terrorists. After all, President Bush readily released the gruesome photos of Saddam Hussein’s sons’ corpses. He also released photos of the terrorist mastermind, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Second, due to the circumstances of bin Laden’s hasty burial at sea, there is a tiny seed of doubt among some cynical Americans that the Obama Administration fabricated this news to improve his prospects for reelection.

I do not believe this to be the case, but others do. The longer the President delays releasing the photos, the more this movement will grow.

The President should end all doubt and publish the bin Laden photos immediately.

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About Sean Patrick Hazlett

Conservative clean energy crusader, national security hawk, financial analyst, engineer, and former military officer.
This entry was posted in Central Asia, Defense, Energy Security, International Security, Media, Middle East, Politics, Terrorism, War and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

36 Responses to Didn’t President Obama Learn Anything From the Birthers?

  1. Scott Erb says:

    Though arguably by allowing the conspiracy theorists to drag it out, then suddenly thumping them with the birth certificate and ridiculing Trump on the same day, Obama got quite a bit of mileage from that issue. They’ll release the pictures, I think, but I understand wanting bin Laden to be gone “with no trace” – nothing his supporters can rally around and use for inspiration. A gory photo might actually do more harm than good in terms of our national interest. That’s more important than Obama’s political standing amongst conspiracy theorists. (Though those who believe Obama might be faking it have to include the military as part of the conspiracy — that would be a much harder sell!)

    • Scott,

      I still think he should release the photo. It will not harm our national interest. In fact, it will augment it by showing the remnants of al Qaeda that their spiritual leader is dead.

      However, I agree that Obama’s political standing amongst conspiracy theorists is a much lesser concern. 😉

      I was actually very disappointed with his decision not to release the photos today.

      It reeks of weakness.

      • Scott Erb says:

        A lot of people are saying the opposite — that releasing the photos would be the easy thing to do, giving in to popular demand. This is a sign that he resists popular demand if in his judgment the release would do more harm than good. That doesn’t seem weak at all.

        I share your doubt that this would harm national security, but I can see the opposite argument. Bin Laden’s influence has been on the wane in recent years — perhaps letting him be forgotten without an image that could become emblematic is more effective.

        • I actually see this as Obama’s biggest weakness, which is that he somehow knows more than the “proles” he is leading. He should just release the photos or his successor will.

        • Moe says:

          Sean, how can releasing the photos or not – after all, there are valid conflicting opinions on what to do – be of much importance after actually getting Osama. There were conflicting opinions, valid ones, about going in to get him considering all that could have gone wrong. And that time he made a difficult and I think we will agree a brave decision. But chosing not to release any photos is weak?

  2. nickgb says:

    Didn’t President Obama Learn Anything From the Birthers?

    Yes, he learned that there is a large segment of the population that will believe a complete fabrication, whether due to ignorance or something else, even when they’ve seen proof that they’re wrong. He learned that when they are finally told they don’t get to come on TV to spout their lies anymore because even Fox News will accept the truth, they change topics to how he got into college. He learned that these people choose to be willfully ignorant in order to say he’s a bad man, or an Other, or however you want to phrase it. Thus, he’s probably also learned to ignore them until they start trying to shut down the entire government again.

    First, there has already been a precedent for releasing photos of dead insurgents and terrorists. After all, President Bush readily released the gruesome photos of Saddam Hussein’s sons’ corpses. He also released photos of the terrorist mastermind, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

    To my knowledge, he hasn’t said there’s no precedent, and I believe they’ve said they’re releasing the photos.

    I do not believe this to be the case, but others do. The longer the President delays releasing the photos, the more this movement will grow.
    The President should end all doubt and publish the bin Laden photos immediately.

    No! We don’t give into their demands simply because they are going to keep bitching about it. If we’ve learned anything, it’s that these people just want to smear Obama, no matter what. The birther controversy should have taught us that these people are to be mocked, ridiculed, or ignored. And like the media, you’re falling for the “Well, SOME people say there’s a controversy, but I don’t, but I’m going to demand you settle the controversy right now.” Who says it’s a conspiracy? What credible person actually thinks we didn’t kill Bin Laden?

    • “Yes, he learned that there is a large segment of the population that will believe a complete fabrication, whether due to ignorance or something else, even when they’ve seen proof that they’re wrong.”

      Sounds a bit like the left’s “Bush lied” narrative.

      “What credible person actually thinks we didn’t kill Bin Laden?”

      I just want to see the photos. There’s simply no good reason not to release it, but Obama announced this afternoon that he would not be releasing them.

      • nickgb says:

        Sounds a bit like the left’s “Bush lied” narrative.

        Can you explain that more? I don’t see the connection. And even so, that’s not a counter-argument, you’re just agreeing that it’s wrong…

        I just want to see the photos.

        Not a good enough reason.

        There’s simply no good reason not to release it, but Obama announced this afternoon that he would not be releasing them.

        Mike Rogers, (R-MI), Chairman of the House Intel Committee, disagrees with you.

        • Nickgb,

          “Can you explain that more? I don’t see the connection. And even so, that’s not a counter-argument, you’re just agreeing that it’s wrong…”

          I agree with you that a lot a folks on the right just see what they want to see no matter what. I was merely pointing out that the left suffers from the same problem.

          Carl Levin (D) and Lindsey Graham (R) agree with me. I don’t think the national security argument that releasing the photos would generate more attacks on US forces is a strong one. Radical Islamists will attack US forces no matter what. The US should release the photos so that bin Laden’s followers know that he is dead. There is no reason for them to take our word for it.

        • nickgb says:

          I would argue that the Birthers/etc. are a much bigger and more influential part of the right than the “Bush Lied” crowd is on the left. And the relative merits of those groups, I think, should be a topic for a more involved discussion another time.

          As for Levin, that’s not exactly what he said. He actually said:

          “I’d let a little time pass so we that we don’t play into the hands of people who want to retaliate with what obviously will be a sensational picture. I would not want to feed that sensation, so I’d wait days or weeks,”

          I agree that the photos could be made public down the road when the risk of reprisal is minimal, but I think Levin’s on my side for the moment, not yours. I’m sure Graham supports releasing them right now, so does Saxby Chambliss. But when resonable people (and Chambliss too) disagree, shouldn’t we err on the side of caution with respect to our troops?

          Besides, Saxby Chambliss is making himself a one-man info booth on the matter, he’ll probably release the photo himself. If he can figure out which is real, of course.

          • “I would argue that the Birthers/etc. are a much bigger and more influential part of the right than the “Bush Lied” crowd is on the left. And the relative merits of those groups, I think, should be a topic for a more involved discussion another time.”

            I’m not so sure about this. I actually think the Bush lied crowd is far more pervasive (and probably more intelligent) than the birther crowd. But I agree that it is probably a topic for another day.

            “As for Levin, that’s not exactly what he said.”

            I just said he was on my side (i.e., release the photos). He does agree with releasing them, albeit on a delayed time table. I’m fine with that. It is certainly better than never releasing them.

            “But when resonable people (and Chambliss too) disagree, shouldn’t we err on the side of caution with respect to our troops?”

            That presumes that releasing the photos would result in increased attacks on our troops.

            Terrorists will attack them no matter what.

            I could also make a reasonably credible argument the opposite way. By showing his followers that the United States successfully killed their leader, we would deliver a demoralizing blow to their cause. Failing to release the photos merely allows bin Laden’s followers to claim he is still living and feeds into Arab conspiracy theories about the lies and treachery of the United States.

      • Moe says:

        You want to see them Sean; I don’t.

        And of course yesterday Al Quaeda confirmed they know Osama’s dead. Still need a picture?

        • Of course.

          I don’t need it to prove he is dead. I believe it.

          I need it for psychological closure and it makes me angry that my President won’t share it with me.

          I think the President is making a serious political mistake here. I was impressed with his handling of this operation and his guts to violate Pakistani sovereignty in pursuit of US vital interests. However, “spiking the football” I think would help him continue to generate positive political momentum.

          Not publishing the photo is a let down to say the least.

  3. May I suggest one reason might be that very practical for not releasing the photos.

    The kill shots were to the head, even the face maybe. Is that right?

    If so, is that going to make Bin Ladin harder to recognize and mean the photos wouldn’t convince many skeptics???

    • Bruce,

      Even if he were unrecognizable (media reports suggest that he still looked like himself after the headshot), I still think not releasing the photos still raises more questions than an unrecognizable photo. People will be wondering what the United States government has to hide.

      He’ll, I’m even wordering…

      • nickgb says:

        Okay, other than “Why can’t I see the photo”, what questions are raised? What are you wondering?

        • One reason one mignt not release the photos (and the only good reason in my mind), is if bin Laden is really alive and in US custody. One reason to do this is to see who raises their hand to take over al Qaeda and also to interrogate bin Laden to gain information, which the military could later use to disrupt the organization.

          If people think he is dead, they are less likely to assume that information about them is being provided to the US military — a classic intelligence operation (Western intelligence agencies seeded misinformation about the death of Kadir Hamza, an Iraqi nuclear scientist, in the 90s just to help find his location – it worked).

          However, given how far the President has been upfront about this operation and the leakiness of politicians, I think it would be nearly impossible to pull off such a massive ruse.

          Otherwise, I think it is silly to hide this from the American people because it would “offend” their sensibilities. Frankly, I find his reasoning demeaning and paternalistic. But, that’s just me…

      • Moe says:

        Repeating myself here – Al Quaeda belives Osama is dead. That should end it.

  4. Scott Erb says:

    I still think it’s the right call. There is no reason to release the photos, and we don’t have to prove to the world anything. We did it, we said so, enough. There is absolutely no objective reason to release the photos – it would serve no purpose. Who cares if some people think we’re hiding something? That’s irrelevant to the national interest. The US doesn’t have to prove that it’s military did what it said it did.

    Also, a thought experiment: If someone very important to you were killed and you wanted revenge, what would the impact of seeing a horrific picture of that person be? For me, it would intensify the desire for revenge and make it harder to just accept it. A gory photo of Bin Laden would spread, be used in ways we couldn’t control, and could make it more likely his memory would inspire future acts.

    • “There is absolutely no objective reason to release the photos – it would serve no purpose.”

      I completely disagree. By showing bin Laden’s followers that the United States successfully killed their leader, we would deliver a demoralizing blow to their cause. Failing to release the photos merely allows bin Laden’s followers to claim he is still living and feeds into Arab conspiracy theories about the lies and treachery of the United States.

      Anyway, just my two cents.

      • nickgb says:

        AQ is now saying he’s dead, so does that change anything for you?

        • It clearly weakens my key argument.

          Now I am adding one that I am stealing from Cenk. The President should release it to show his administration is transparent.

          As I read more reports, I now think the decision not to release the photos may be more about avoiding international prosecution both for the President and for the operatives that pulled the trigger.

          If you are into the whole international law thing, what Obama did was technically illegal. Since I favor US security over international strictures, I was actually very impressed with Obama’s resolute choice in favor of US national interests.

        • nickgb says:

          I think the transparency argument is weak here because there’s no details that we’ll get from the photo that we don’t have. Transparency is a concern when the govt. hides things, but here they’re admitting to it all.

          I also don’t think it’ll be an issue of prosecution. Whether it was legal or not (I agree with you it’s not, but there’s debate), Obama was openly said he ordered it, and that it happened. Why would the picture give him any greater liability?

          • Just more evidence of his “brutality” from the United Nation’s perspective.

            However, I’m no lawyer, so I am not sure how the pictures would help or hurt him in a trial – though I imagine they would more likely hurt him.

  5. Charles McCormack says:

    There’s no question in my mind that Obama made an excellent and mature decision. In fact, I’m beginning to think he’s becoming a real leader. The argument that releasing the photo will satisfy the doubters that OBL’s really dead and that Obama is not lying is totally baseless. Those who don’t believe Obama will continue to not believe him, because basically they despise every thing about him, especially his successes. This is true of the birthers, many of whom continue to believe that Obama wasn’t born in Hawaii and are now claiming that his long-form birth certificate is a forgery or has been doctored. These are nutcase, conspiratorial idiots. Obama doesn’t need to cater to either the wingnuts who hate him or those who want to gloat about American power. He did his job and that’s enough and he has nothing to prove.

    • Chuck,

      I disagree. See my comments in this section in response to Scott for more detail.

      The bottom line is that this decision is a subjective one, and both sides feel passionately about it.

      I was cheering Obama on until he made what I consider to be a very weird decision not to share the photos. Does he deem the American people as too sensitive to see them? Frankly, this sort of paternalism is likely Obama’s greatest weakness and I cannot stand it.

      • Scott Erb says:

        I think the arguments on both sides each have some legitimacy. I certainly don’t think its a weird decision — a lot of top Republicans support it. I also don’t think there is any chance Obama would be prosecuted for anything! The legality issue is interesting because it depends a lot on Pakistan. If Pakistan claims it a violation of its sovereignty and complains, then its arguably illegal (though no more illegal than, say, the no fly zones imposed in Iraq without UN approval or Manuel Noriega was overthrown). If Pakistan doesn’t formally complain, then there’s no case.

  6. As observed, I don’t think anyone who thinks there’s some kind of conspiracy (one more many I should say) surrounding the President would be dissuaded in their views by photos or anything else. They’d quickly convince themselves that it was all faked.

    I get the spiking the ball. Finishing the sorry career of this monster for those directly involved has no emotional resonance. Something visual would add that. Some video of Bin Laden was released, but from what I’ve seen its an anticlimax.

    That said, I think its the Commander in Chief’s call and I think he made it.

  7. Yep I agree too! My take for what its worth is that release of the photos might allow us to see how bin Laden died. A shot in the forehead indicates a fight a shot in the back of the head slanting down might indicate exceution whilst kneeling on the floor which is something else entirely. Which is why we need to see the photos. I did a piece about this (and Eichmann and Kepiro) which might interest at

    http://www.theoligarchkings.wordpress.com

    regards

    David

    • David,

      First, thanks for stopping by!

      You make a very good point. Exit wounds tend to be bigger than entrance wounds.

      If I were in the President’s position and bin Laden were killed execution-style, I wouldn’t release the photos either.

      That said, I doubt the SEALs killed bin Laden in this manner, since they were wearing helmet cams, which recorded the whole incident.

      I still think he should release the photos, though I doubt he will do so any time soon. I suspect he will save a release for the election. His Republican candidate may use it as a wedge issue and waste energy on arguing for a release. Then, Obama can release it and deflate the argument, much like he did so with the Birthers.

      I look forward to reading your post. 😉

    • Moe says:

      David – I think I commented on your post at the time. But I’ve now had some time to think about it and I don’t think the situations are comprable. Those captures and executions were after their war – and it was a was a war between nations. Bin laden is stateless, acting as an individual and we are still engaged in hostilities with him. I think it’s a whole different thing.

      In principle I agree with your point, and would even extend it to many of the Gitmo detainees. But somehow, OBL is different. It’s like he IS a state.

      Probably muddy thinking, but that’s my specialty. Ask Sean!

    • David,

      I also enjoyed your piece on Superman. I had no idea the character renounced his American citizenship!

  8. Superman not an American??!

    Wow! Obama is in real trouble now!

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