Release Bin Laden Death Photos? CIA Director Thinks It Will Happen

White House mulling release of photo of bin Laden's corpse.

May 3, 2011, 8:10 AM

May 3, 2011 — -- CIA Director Leon Panetta said this evening he believes the photos documenting Osama bin Laden's death should and will be released, but both the CIA and White House say a decision has not been made.

Asked by reporters if a photo will be released, Panetta said, "I think it will be," adding that the White House will make the final decision.

Calls for the photos to be released have come from a broad spectrum of people, from families of the victims of the 9/11 attacks to U.S. officials and even bin Laden's allies.

A 9/11 widow said today she hopes President Obama will quickly release the photos because such proof would be "reassuring."

Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., whose Long Island district includes families who lost loved ones in the 9/11 attack and has been critical of Obama's record on national security, said having the photos released would eliminate any doubt.

"Let's not have any conspiracy theories develop, suddenly he's spotted walking through Singapore or something," King said.

The Taliban also wants to see them, releasing a statement today saying it would not believe bin Laden is dead until it sees proof or hears it from sources close to bin Laden.

ABC News has learned that the Obama administration possesses a number of photographs of Osama bin Laden's corpse after the 40-minute firefight at his Pakistani compound. The photos were taken in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and on the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson.

The White House described the photos of bin Laden as "gruesome" and said they could be viewed as inflammatory by some.

Officials who have seen the photographs said Bin Laden has a gunshot wound to his forehead and the insides of his head are visible.

A person who was shown about a half dozen of the images told ABC News' Jonathan Karl they look like photos from "a bad crime scene."

"It's what you'd expect from somebody shot in the head with a high-caliber bullet," the source said, adding that it is not a pretty sight.

In fact, after viewing the photos, the source said it would be a mistake to release them -- especially so soon after the mission.

King, who heads the House Homeland Security Committee, said after a classified briefing of House members by Panetta that he's spoken to people who have seen the photos.

"They're not ghoulish. They're not going scare anybody off," King said.

Abigail Carter, whose husband, Arron, was killed in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, expects to see the photos.

"I have wondered where the photos have been. I just assumed the photos would get plastered everywhere," Carter said.

When she heard that bin Laden was dead Sunday, the news brought a feeling of numbness.

"Psychologically, it's a sense of vindication, but the reality is it changes nothing," she said.

When Carter got the news that the architect of the 9/11 terrorist attacks had been killed she thought of the immediate images and video of Saddam Hussein that were released upon his capture.

"That photo [of Saddam Hussein] became iconic. It was sort of the face of defeat," she said. "It's been kind of strange, the burial at sea, the very fast DNA. ... It's just been sort of: Did this really happen or was this all concocted somehow? It would be reassuring in some sense if the photos were released."

Carter's 15-year-old daughter has been disappointed to see people celebrating bin Laden's death, but Carter said she won't keep the photos from her.

David McCourt lost both his wife, Ruth, and his 4-year-old daughter in the terrorist attack. He said the photos would not provide him any reassurance.

"I don't look at his [bin Laden's] picture…every time I see it, I become appalled. I become depressed because I know he's responsible for the murder of my wife and daughter," said McCourt.

The Florida man said that he also thinks the release of the photos could upset those in the Middle East.

"We know that he's dead," he said. "I trust the government. It serves no purpose other than exacerbating the situation. The people in the Mideast will see a picture of him and it just seems it will add fuel to the fire."

White House officials worry about the global impact of the photos too.

"There are sensitivities here in terms of the appropriateness of releasing photographs of Osama bin Laden in the aftermath of this firefight and we're making an evaluation about the need to do that because of the sensitivities involved," said Jay Carney, White House spokesman. "We review this information and make this decision with the same calculation that we do so many things which is...does it serve or in any way harm and that's not just domestically, but globally."

The gruesome photos show bin Laden shot in the chest and the head by elite Navy SEALS on Sunday. The head wound is above his left eye and is a particularly grisly picture which has tempered officials willingness to display it. Carney said that officials have disclosed a significant amount of information already and are still deciding whether to release the photos.

"We're talking about the most highly classified operation that this government has undertaken in many, many years and the amount of information we tried to provide to you in this short period of time is quite substantial," Carney said.

The Taliban released a statement today saying they would not believe bin Laden is dead until they saw proof or heard it from sources close to bin Laden.

"This news is only coming from one side, from Obama's office, and American has not shown any evidence or proof to support this claim," said Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid in a statement. "On the other side, our sources close to Osama bin Laden have not confirmed or denied the news."

Obama and national security officials are considering releasing a photo of bin Laden's corpse today, a source told ABC News.

"We are looking at releasing additional information, details about the raid as well as any other types of material, possibly including photos. We want to understand exactly what the possible reaction might be to the release of this information," said White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan on "Good Morning America."

Also up for consideration is the release of video from the "helmet cams" of the Navy SEALS who went after bin Laden.The SEALS captured the mission on tape by wearing helmet cameras.

"Any types of material related to the raid, we need to make sure that we make the right decisions. What we don't want to do is to compromise potential future operations by releasing certain things, so we're looking at all of this and making the right decisions," Brennan said.

White House Officials Tensely Watched the Raid Unfold

A tense photo from the Situation Room on Sunday reveals the president along with top officials including Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton nervously watching two elite teams of Navy SEALS invading the compound of the al Qaeda mastermind. Biden nervously holds rosary beads, Clinton has her hand over her mouth and Obama's shoulders are raised.

The 24 SEALS, flew from Jalalabad towards the sprawling million dollar compound in Abbottabad in Blackhawk helicopters on Sunday.

One of the Blackhawk helicopters stalled, breaking a rotor on the 18 foot walls of the compound. The SEALS switched to plan B and brought in a Chinook helicopter.

The elite team engaged in a firefight with bin Laden's two trusted couriers, waking up neighbors.

"I heard gunfire around 1 a.m.," said Syed Riaz Hussein. "It was followed by a huge blast."

The SEALS moved to an upper floor where they found bin Laden. A woman with bin Laden may have been used as a human shield by bin Laden and was killed, Brennan said. Whether she shielded him willingly is not known.

Five people died, including bin Laden's son Khalid. Twelve to 15 others, including women and children, survived the raid. At least two women and two children who survived the raid have been taken to Islamabad.

The first indication for Obama that bin Laden had been killed came when a Navy SEAL sent back the coded message to Washington that said simply, "Geronimo-E KIA."

Geronimo was the code name for the operation. Anxious White House officials weren't positive that they would find bin Laden in the fortress-like complex, that he might leave while the SEALS were en route.

The first encouraging word came at the beginning of the raid when the SEALS recognized the man who had eluded a U.S. manhunt for a decade. They sent back the message, "Geronimo."

Will Photos of a Dead Osama bin Laden Convince People He Is Dead

After a 40-minute search of the compound, punctuated by firefights, bin Laden was dead, and the cryptic "Geronimo-E KIA" code sent relief through the White House. E stood for enemy and KIA for killed in action.

The force that swooped down on the world's most wanted terrorist has been identified as SEAL Team Six of the "Naval Special Warfare Development Group."

Howard Wasdin is a former member of SEAL Team Six and said that this group of SEALS is handpicked and the best of the best.

"Forty minutes sounds like a short amount of time. The minutes the bullets start flying, it becomes an eternity. Anything over a two minute firefight is a long firefight. Forty minutes is a long time," Wasdin said.

Wasdin said the elite team trains and prepares for missions like this one every day. For the mission to kill bin Laden, the team practiced in a replica of the compound.

"Their mindset is just mission accomplishment…no chest pumping, no I'm going to be a hero, just accomplishing the mission, the task at hand, getting them and their people out alive," said Wasdin.

Bin Laden's body has washed and wrapped in white cloth according to Islamic custom and dropped into the Arabian Sea to avoid creating a shrine to the terrorist. Video of the burial at sea may also be released by the White House.

The next target for the United States is likely to be the number two in al Qaeda's chain of command, Ayman al-Zawahiri. Zawahiri, an Egyptian doctor, helped found al Qaeda along with bin Laden. Sources say intelligence officials will also likely target Anwar al-Awlaki, a former imam thought to be behind such attacks against the U.S. as the failed Christmas Day terror plot in 2009.

"The death of Osama bin Laden brings an important chapter to a close. Al Qaeda still has Ayman al-Zawahiri, number 2 in command, I assume now the number one in command," said Condoleezza Rice. "We know that they try everyday to plot and plan to kill us and so we can't lose focus and vigilance of the continuing terrorist presence…it's also important that Afghanistan not go back to failed state status which after all led to the kind of territorial integrity where Al Qaeda could plot and plan 9/11."

ABC News' Nick Schifrin, Habibullah Khan, Lauren Effron, Mike Boettcher, Richard Esposito, Jason Ryan, Brian Ross and Pierre Thomas contributed to this report.

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