President Barack Obama has decided not to release photos of Osama bin Laden’s corpse, citing national security risks and saying the United States should not brandish “trophies” of its victory.
Obama’s war cabinet had been debating whether to publish gruesome post-mortem photos of the Al-Qaeda terror chief, who was gunned down by US special forces in a covert raid inside Pakistan on Sunday.
“It is important for us to make sure that very graphic photos of somebody who was shot in the head are not floating around as an incitement to additional violence, as a propaganda tool,” Obama told CBS news’s 60 Minutes on Thursday.
“That’s not who we are. You know, we don’t trot out this stuff as trophies,” Obama said, arguing that DNA and facial recognition testing had proved beyond doubt that the mastermind of the September 11 attacks was dead.
The “very graphic” nature of the scene described by Obama appeared to be shown in photographs obtained by the Reuters news agency of three unidentified dead men in the house — none of whom resembled bin Laden.
The AFP news agency could not independently verify the photos. Reuters said it had bought them from a Pakistani security official who entered the bin Laden compound shortly after the raid occurred in the early hours of Monday local time.
The dead men were lying in large pools of blood. One, dressed in a t-shirt, had blood streaming from his right ear.
According to its time stamp, that photo was taken at 2:30 am, about 50 minutes after US officials said the raid had concluded.
The two others were wearing traditional Pakistani gowns. One had blood spilling from his mouth and chin, and there was a computer cable and what appeared to be a child’s water pistol at his right shoulder.
The third man had blood collecting from his nose and there was also a thick band of blood around the middle of his white shalwar kameez.
Other pictures taken in early daylight showed the trash-strewn grounds of the compound and the tail of a wrecked helicopter believed to be part of a top secret stealth helicopter program.
Reuters said all the photos were the same pixel size, indicating that they had not been manipulated, and that data in the digital files matched the time and date stamp imprinted on the photos — from 2:30 am to 6:43 am.
One of bin Laden’s children, now in custody along with a Yemeni wife of the Saudi-born Al-Qaeda leader, saw her father shot dead, a Pakistani intelligence official said.
The girl, reported to be 12 years old, “was the one who confirmed to us that Osama was dead and shot and taken away,” said the Pakistani official.
Obama’s top security aides had debated whether to publish a photo of bin Laden to prove he had been killed, but feared a backlash in the Muslim world that may lead to attacks on US troops or interests.
Some senior lawmakers said they had seen the pictures and described them as graphic, but later reports suggested the images circulating on Capitol Hill were not authentic.
Three US senators retracted their claims of having seen a gory photograph of Osama bin Laden’s corpse, apparently having been misled by a fake picture.
Three days after an elite team of US Navy SEALS avenged the 2001 attacks, which killed nearly 3,000 people, national security experts combed through a haul of evidence from the Pakistani mansion that served as bin Laden’s lair.
The trove, including about five computers, 10 hard drives and 100 storage devices, represents a dramatic intelligence breakthrough for the United States in its fight against Al-Qaeda, experts said.
“I’ll be very surprised if this isn’t a gold mine for us,” said John McLaughlin, a former CIA deputy director.
“I think we’re probably going to find reports of potential plotting.
“We’ll probably find something about funding. We may learn something about whatever relationship he did or didn’t have with Pakistan. We’ll learn about key aides,” he told CNN.
The top US law enforcement official meanwhile defended the legality of the special forces swoop, after it emerged bin Laden had been unarmed when he was gunned down.
The operation “was lawful and consistent with our values,” Attorney General Eric Holder told Senate lawmakers.
US authorities insist the commandos were not on a kill-only mission but have come under pressure to explain the apparent contradiction that an unarmed bin Laden “resisted” capture.
“If he had surrendered, I think — attempted to surrender — I think we should, obviously, have accepted that,” Holder said.
“But there was no indication that he wanted to do that. And, therefore, his killing was appropriate.”
And Senator Dianne Feinstein said she was told bin Laden was about to grab a weapon when he was shot dead.
“I believe he was preparing to resist, and that’s why the shots were taken,” she told CNN.
“There were arms directly near the door and my understanding is he was right there and going to get those arms. So, you know, you really can’t take a chance. This is the number one target.”
Obama will lay a wreath in memory of the victims and meet relatives of those who perished during a visit Thursday to Ground Zero, where the World Trade Center towers were turned into an inferno nearly 10 years ago and toppled by airliners hijacked by Al-Qaeda operatives.
But the White House said he will not make a speech, in an apparent sign he is wary of his trip being seen as an overtly political affair.
New opinion polls showed Obama is enjoying a boost in popularity after hunting down America’s public enemy number one.
His approval rating surged 11 points to 57 percent in a CBS/New York Times poll, while 72 percent approved of his handling of terrorism.
Pakistan, meanwhile, sought to deflect some of the embarrassment of bin Laden being found on its soil.
Officials said the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency had no idea bin Laden was holed up in the compound in Abbottabad, home to Pakistan’s equivalent of the West Point and Sandhurst military academies.
Salman Bashir, the top civil servant in Pakistan’s foreign ministry, told the BBC that the ISI had alerted the United States to its suspicions about the imposing compound “as far back as 2009.”
But it was not known at the time that bin Laden was there and there were “millions” of other suspect locations, Bashir said.
Pakistani intelligence officials said agents raided the bin Laden compound in 2003 when it was still being built, looking for then Al-Qaeda number three Abu Faraj al-Libbi, who escaped and was eventually captured two years later.
In Pakistan itself, conspiracy theories have proliferated after bin Laden’s body was buried at sea off a US warship to forestall the prospect of a grave on land becoming an extremist shrine.