President Obama, declaring that “there is no doubt that Osama is dead,” decided on Wednesday against releasing the gruesome death photographs of Osama bin Laden, warning they could damage American security and stating firmly: “We don’t trot out this stuff as trophies.”
The president first disclosed his decision in an interview with CBS's Steve Kroft to be aired on Sunday on 60 Minutes. At his daily briefing on Wednesday, Press Secretary Jay Carney read the president’s words from that interview.
“We don’t need to spike the football,” the president told Kroft, adding, “That’s not who we are.”
Obama downplayed the existence of doubts about who was killed in the American raid last Sunday. “It was him,” he said, adding at another point in the interview, “There is no doubt that we killed Osama bin Laden.”
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Warning of the consequences of releasing such grisly photos, he said, “It is important for us make sure that very graphic photos of somebody who was shot in the head are not floating around as an incitement to additional violence or as a propaganda tool.”
Asked about doubters, he told Kroft, “The truth is that we were monitoring worldwide reaction. There is no doubt that bin Laden is dead. Certainly there is no doubt [by] al-Qaida members that he is dead. And so we don't think that a photograph in and of itself is going to make any difference. The fact of the matter is, you will not see bin Laden walking on this earth again.”
The decision ends a brief but lively debate inside the administration. “We discussed this internally,” Obama said in the interview, adding that all the senior members of his national-security team supported his ruling against releasing the photos. “Keep in mind that we are absolutely certain that this was him. We've done DNA sampling and testing so there is no doubt that we killed Osama bin Laden.”
Obama called the photos “very graphic.” And he made clear that his decision not to release the photos did not suggest any second thoughts about the mission to kill him. Bin Laden, the president said, was “deserving of the justice that he received” and Americans “and people around the world, are glad that he is gone.”
Even early on, the president said, there was high confidence that the target of the mission was bin Laden. Asked how he knew, he replied: “When they landed, we had very strong confirmation at that point that it was him. Photographs had been taken. Facial analysis indicated that, in fact, it was him. We hadn't yet done DNA testing but at that point we were 95% sure.”
Asked his reaction when he saw the pictures, the president replied simply, “It was him.”
In opting against releasing photos that some feared could inflame the Muslim street, the president acted in accordance with the advice of many in Congress and his administration who didn't think there was any real doubt about the al-Qaida leader’s death, underscoring that the photo question was not a partisan issue.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said earlier he had no opinion on whether the White House should release photos of bin Laden to establish that his body was in U.S. custody and that he died as a result of gunshot wounds to the head and chest inflicted by the Special Operations unit that invaded his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
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"That's a decision for the administration to make," Boehner said about releasing the photos, which U.S. officials have described as depicting the gory effect of a gunshot wound to the head. "They have to decide what to do. I'm convinced. I have no doubts."
Boehner said Obama telephoned him at his Capitol Hill apartment on Sunday night and briefed him through the key points of the operation that led to bin Laden's death. The phone call lasted about 10 minutes, Boehner said.
"He walked me through the steps that were taken, and I have no doubts," the speaker said of bin Laden's death.
Boehner described the operation as an important step in America's "war on terrorism," but he sounded decidedly downcast about the prospect of that military and intelligence campaign ending any time soon.
"Psychologically, bringing bin Laden to justice is a big step in the war against terrorists," Boehner said. "The thing that I would want to underscore is that al-Qaida has a history of replacing their leaders and moving people up. Our efforts have to be just as strong today as they were a week ago. This issue is not going to go away."
Asked how America will know the war on terror is over, Boehner offered a definition that may never be achieved and might not be achievable in a literal sense.
"When there are no longer threats to Americans here or abroad. Then, we'll know. This vigilance is going to have to last for a long time. I don't see this [the war on terrorism] being resolved any time soon. We're talking about a radical philosophy that has spread far and wide. You cannot look the other way. You cannot hope this just goes away, because it's not going to go away."
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