May 4, 2011 — -- Grisly photos of Osama bin Laden's corpse will not be released because it would not advance America's interests here or overseas, an administration spokesman said Wednesday.
"These are graphic photographs of someone who was shot in the head. It is not in our national security interest to allow those images…to become icons to rally opinion against the United States," said Jay Carney, White House spokesman. "The president's number one priority is the safety and security of American citizens at home and Americans abroad. There is no need to release these photographs to establish Osama bin Laden's identity."
Carney said that the president does not want the photos used as propaganda or as a trophy of America's success at capturing and killing the al Qaeda mastermind.
"There is no question at all that Osama bin Laden is dead. He will not walk this earth again. We have established beyond any doubt through DNA evidence, facial recognition, visual recognition..that Osama bin Laden was shot and killed on Sunday night," Carney said.
Officials said the photos show a bearded bin Laden, 54, after being shot above the left eye and in the chest during a 40-minute raid by elite Navy SEALs Sunday. The two shots killed the al Qaeda leader and terrorism mastermind who ordered the attacks on the twin towers.
The Obama administration had debated releasing the gruesome photo, which reveals exposed brains and blood. The president was increasingly skeptical about the need to show photographic proof of bin Laden's death.
The decision not to release the photos quickly drew the ire of Republican and possible presidential contender Sarah Palin.
She tweeted, "Show photo as warning to others seeking America's destruction. No pussy-footing around, no politicking, no drama; it's part of the mission."
Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton advised the president that releasing a picture could prompt a backlash against the United States for killing bin Laden, sources told ABC News.
"Here's the problem, if you're a sergeant in a town in ... Afghanistan and you're trying to get some local elder to cooperate on what's happening in your village, are you going to do it if this inflames into some kind of trophy of Osama bin Laden," said Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
After monitoring voices in Arab and Muslim media, the president and some members of his national security team reasoned that few people in the Muslim world were skeptical of bin Laden's death, sources said. Such apparent lack of skepticism, along with bin Laden's wife's identifying the terrorist to the Navy SEALs and Pakistani intelligence officials, made the president increasingly doubtful of any compelling reason to release a photograph.
"I think it's pretty common knowledge that the wives are talking; yes, it was Osama bin Laden. Yes, he's dead," Rogers said.
Obama's reluctance to release the photos comes despite increasing calls from 9/11 families and even the Taliban to release the photographs.
CIA Director Leon Panetta said Tuesday evening that he believes the photos documenting bin Laden's death should and would be released.
Asked by reporters if a photo would be released, Panetta said, "I think it will be," adding that the White House would make the final decision.
Most prominent senators argue that the photos should not be released.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., head of the Intelligence Committee, said the administration should not release them, noting that the DNA results are "conclusive."
"I don't think the timing is such that something incendiary is the right thing to do," Feinstein told reporters this morning after a two-hour classified briefing for senators conducted by CIA boss Leon Panetta.
But she noted that she has not seen the photos yet.
"We have asked for them and I am sure that I will be able to see them. I don't need to see them in any special time. I'm convinced it was Osama bin Laden. The DNA is conclusive," she emphasized.
Feinstein's stance was seconded by the top Republican on the Armed Services panel, Arizona Sen. John McCain.
"My initial opinion is that it's not necessary to do so. I think there's ample proof that this was Osama bin Laden, but I will defer to the judgment of the president of the United States," McCain said.
The head of the Senate Foreign Relations panel – John Kerry – even went so far as to tell reporters to "relax." "He's dead," Kerry said. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has also said the photos should not be released.
Some in Congress encouraged Obama to release the photos to avoid the ire of conspiracy theorists.
"There's no doubt that they got him," Rep. Peter King, a Long Island, N.Y., Republican whose district counted a number of 9/11 victims. "Let's not have any conspiracy theories develop. From what I've heard of the photos, they're not ghoulish ... they're not going to scare anybody off.
Some families who lost loved ones on Sept. 11, 2001, said the photos would be reassuring.
"I have wondered where the photos have been. I just assumed the photos would get plastered everywhere," 9/11 widow Abigail Carter said.
Carter's husband, Arron, was killed in the World Trade Center attacks. When she heard that bin Laden was had died, the news brought a feeling of numbness, she said.
She also thought of the images and video of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein that were released immediately after his capture.
"That photo [of 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."
David McCourt lost his wife, Ruth, and his 4-year-old daughter in the terrorist attacks. 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," McCourt said.
9/11 Families, Politicians, Taliban Call for Release of Osama bin Laden Death Photo
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," he said.
White House officials agonized over the global impact of releasing the photos.
"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," White House spokesman Jay Carney said. "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 Taliban released a statement Tuesday 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," spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said in a statement. "On the other side, our sources close to Osama bin Laden have not confirmed or denied the news."
Along with photos of bin Laden, helmet cameras captured video of the raid and video was also taken of bin Laden's body being lowered into the North Arabian Sea from the USS Carl Vinson.
"Any types of material related to the raid, we need to make sure that we make the right decisions," White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan said Tuesday. "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."
Since Sunday's attack, officials have said they confirmed bin Laden's death through DNA evidence and verbal confirmation from survivors at the million-dollar compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, where he was killed.