4 May 2011

Bin Laden body photos will not be published, says Obama

Photos of Osama bin Laden’s dead body will not be published, says President Obama, as senior Taliban commanders tell Channel 4 News the al-Qaeda leader died of kidney disease months ago.

Interviewed on US television, President Obama said the photos would remain unpublished.

He told the CBS “60 Minutes” programme that publication could have incited violence and been used as an al Qaeda propaganda tool. “There is no doubt that we killed Osama bin Laden. You will not see bin Laden walking on this Earth again.”

Claims bin Laden died earlier

One of the senior most Taliban commanders told Channel 4’s Pakistan correspondent that bin Laden was not killed by American fire, but died from kidney disease.

“I said the Americans would never ever be able to show any evidence that they killed Sheikh Osama. And I am saying this with full authority that Sheikh has not been gunned down,” a senior Taliban commander claimed.

He told Channel 4 that bin Laden was suffering from kidney disease and despite several operations he died. The militant commander called from an undisclosed location and wished not to be named.

“There is no truth in whatever the American leadership has been telling its nation and rest of the world about Sheikh Osama’s death at a house in Abbottabad city,” the Taliban leader claimed.

Another senior Pakistani Taliban commander made a similar claim, saying, “Sheikh Osama has neither been killed with US nor with Pakistani bullets.”

He said bin Laden had become bed-ridden for months before his death and was physically weak. According to him, bin Laden had died in presence of his close family members, his trusted lieutenant Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri and a few other associates.

Photo ‘must be published’

In an interview with Channel 4 News earlier, Sir David Manning, the British Ambassador to the US from 2003 to 2007, told Channel 4 News that it was imperative to publish.

“I think they need to release a photograph,” he said.

“I think it will be painful, but I think otherwise, there will always be the mythmakers – there will always be those who claim the conspiracy theory, people who will say ‘they didn’t dare show us the photograph because he never really was killed’.”

When asked if he thought images of bin Laden’s enshrouded body being buried at sea would suffice, Sir David said: “The only thing that will convince – and it won’t convince everybody – will be to see the photograph of the dead Osama bin Laden and the DNA evidence. I think they need to do that, but in may not be wise to do it immediately, but I think that will have to be done.”

“I think they need to release a photograph…otherwise, there will always be the mythmakers – there will always be those who claim the conspiracy theory.” Sir David Manning

Opinions on the subject are deeply divided, with those in favour of publishing the pictures inisting that it is necessary to conclusively prove to doubters – with visual verification – that his death has indeed occurred. Many commentators have pointed out that US President Barack Obama was pressured into releasing his birth certificate to shrug off, once and for all, conspiracy theorists who claim he was not born on American soil.

Those in favour argue that a picture of Osama bin Laden dead would help to put a human face on an individual who modelled his life on the prophet Mohammad and was considered as a spiritually enlightened man by his followers.

They also say that similar shots of Saddam Hussein and his sons elicited little negative reaction when they were released.

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

Those against publishing the images say that the administration does not want to help strengthen bin Laden’s supporters, whose death picture could become a recruiting tool for al-Qaeda.

White House officials are also said to be concerned that the bloody photos could inflame anti-American sentiment.

Pakistan opposed

If the pictures were published, it would also be likely to anger the Pakistani government, which has previously expressed its opposition to releasing images of dead terrorists.

A WikiLeaks cable reveals that Pakistan Army Chief General Ashfaq Kayani told General David Petraeus in 2009 that he believed the publication of images of dead Taliban and al Qaeda operatives served to “glorify terror.”

The cable reads: Kayani mused about the “glorification of terrorism” (particularly the pictures of dead combatants in the press) and said Pakistan needed press laws similar to those in the UK.

US-Pakistani relations are already under severe strain following the Navy SEALs mission that killed bin Laden. US intelligence agents did not inform Islamabad about the operation, and as such is being regarded as an affront to Pakistan’s sovereignty.

Read more: WikiLeaks shows the extent of mistrust between the US and Pakistan

There are believed to be two sets of photos, one taken when bin Laden was removed from the compound, and another on the USS Vinson from which he was buried at sea.

Assurances have been made that the former al-Qaeda leader was afforded all the Islamic rites and cleaned in accordance with religious law, something that will presumably need to be evident in any images provided.

Attorney General: ‘Killing legal’

On Wednesday, the White House defended the killing of bin Laden as an act of “national self-defence”.

US Attorney General Eric Holder told the Senate Judiciary Committee: “Let me make something very clear, the operation in which Osama bin Laden was killed was lawful.

“He was the head of al-Qaedaa – an organisation that had conducted the attacks of September 11. He admitted his involvement.

“It was justified as an act of national self-defence. If he had surrendered, attempted to surrender, I think we should obviously have accepted that, but there was no indication that he wanted to do that and therefore his killing was appropriate.”