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U.S. Government refuses to release photos of Osama bin Laden’s death, sparks controversy in America

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By Julia Sayers

The decision by the U.S. government to not release the photos of Osama bin Laden’s death has sparked controversy in America and all over the world.

There has been a large range of opinions on whether or not the photos should be released. Many of the people who want to see the photos are victims of the September 11 attacks, but there has also been a demand for the photos from U.S. officials and even allies of bin Laden. However, many people feel that the photos should not be released, for various reasons. According to a poll by NBC News, nearly 2/3 of Americans support the government’s decision to not release the photos. But 24 percent strongly believe the photos should be released.

Spokesmen for the Pentagon said that bin Laden’s body had been put in the North Arabian Sea after following traditional Islamic procedures. Before burying him, the U.S. used multiple methods to identify the body as bin Laden. A woman believed to be his wife identified him during the raid that killed him and a DNA analysis proved the body was bin Laden.

Many people, including the Taliban, refuse to believe the government until they see photographic proof. However, Shereen Elgamal, assistant professor of Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies, said that no method will ever satisfy.

“There will always be those who have their doubts,” Elgamal said. “So no matter which way the government goes, I don’t think any level of explanation will be enough.”

Like Elgamal said, simply telling U.S. citizens this doesn’t seem to be enough.

“It has been as much of a societal struggle the past 10 years to hunt him down as it has been for the government and I think we as a people have earned the right to see the photos,” said Elon University senior Devan Scott.

Bin Laden is the fifth person to be on the cover of Time magazine with the red x, something reserved for "history's worst." Photo courtesy of Time.

The government doesn’t want to release the photos due to the graphic nature of them and the fear that they could be a threat to national security. The photos have been said by officials show bin Laden with a gunshot wound in his forehead, the insides of his head visible.

President Barack Obama made the announcement on May 4 that the photos would not be released as proof.

“It’s 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 or as propaganda tools,” he said in an interview with “60 Minutes.” “That’s not who we are – we don’t trot this stuff out as trophies.”

Sarah Carideo, an Elon junior, also said bin Laden’s death shouldn’t be flaunted more than it already has been.

“We’re already getting enough bad reactions to the way we’re treating the capturing and killing of bin Laden and shoving it into peoples faces,” Carideo said. “I think its something we should be happy we’ve accomplished but it’s not something that will resolve all the issues we have.”

Elgamal worries that the photos could not only incite violence, but may also help to gain followers of bin Laden’s cause.

“It may stir emotions and instigate more violence and more hatred. I think its a negative cycle and if we can stop it, it really needs to stop,” Elgamal said. “I really am unable to see something positive with spreading around somebody’s picture with his brain tissue all over. It may even backfire by drawing sympathizers who were not originally supporting him. By looking at the poor man with his head partially blown off, it may cause others to feel for him and sympathize with his cause and question why he wasn’t brought to justice through the criminal justice system.”

Freshman Jordan Johnston also worries that releasing the photos could be dangerous for the U.S.

“I don’t think the pictures should be released because it would cause a lot of controversy and could be a threat to our national security if other countries see we’re showing his dead body everywhere,” she said. “I don’t think that will make them very happy.”

Other people think releasing the photos would be disrespectful.

“There is a certain level of respect that should be associated with life and death,” Elgamal said. “There is no need for the photos, but if people want actual assurances this death took place, maybe there are other ways than just releasing it to everyone. Because of the dignity of a human life, it is not about the person behind the life, it is the fact that somebody left this world.”

Leah Hoyland, an Elon senior feels the same way.

“Keeping the photos from the public is respectful,” she said. “He was still a person. If it were you, would you want to see photos of your dead family member all over the news? We’re acting like we won the lottery.”

NPR and Fox News have filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the photos to be released. People have also suggested the Obama administration invite key opinion leaders to view the death photos and report back to the public on the authenticity of them.


Written by juliasayers

May 12, 2011 at 5:48 pm

One Response

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  1. I am sharing a few structural comments on the reporting on this today, so you can improve this piece of your portfolio. You will get the exam grade later.

    You have a grammar problem here: “Many of the people who want to see the photos are victims of the September 11 attacks, but there have also been a demand…”

    Elgamal is your local “expert,” and her quote should go above a student’s quote – also take more of what she said out of your video clip and add it into the story.

    You should also incorporate a sentence on the NBC poll, and you should mention that NPR and Fox News have filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the photos to be released.

    Please remember that you should not use the words “feels,” “thinks” or “believes” as synonyms for “said.” You do not really know how people feel, believe or think!

    Good effort. I hope you enjoyed the challenge!


    May 13, 2011 at 9:15 am

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