President Barack Obama decided not to release photos of Osama bin Laden’s corpse, citing national security risks and saying the United States should not brandish “trophies” of its victory.
Obama’s war cabinet had been debating whether to publish gruesome post-mortem photos of the Al-Qaeda terror chief, who was gunned down by US special forces in a covert raid inside Pakistan on Sunday.
“It is 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, as a propaganda tool,” Obama told the CBS show 60 Minutes.
“That’s not who we are. You know, we don’t trot out this stuff as trophies,” Obama said, arguing that DNA and facial recognition testing had established beyond doubt that the mastermind of the September 11, 2001 attacks was dead.
“There’s no doubt among Al-Qaeda members that he is dead. The fact of the matter is, you will not see bin Laden walking on this earth again.”
A Pakistani intelligence official said one of bin Laden’s children, now in custody along with a Yemeni wife of the Saudi-born Al-Qaeda leader, saw her father shot dead.
His daughter, reported to be 12 years old, “was the one who confirmed to us that Osama was dead and shot and taken away,” said the Pakistani official.
Obama’s top security aides had debated whether to publish a photo of bin Laden to prove he had been killed, but feared a backlash in the Muslim world, possibly targeting US troops or interests.
Some senior lawmakers on Capitol Hill said they had seen the pictures, and described them as graphic, but later reports suggested the images circulating on Capitol Hill were not authentic.
Three US senators retracted their claims of having seen a graphic photograph of Osama bin Laden’s corpse, apparently the victims of a fake picture of the slain Al-Qaeda chief.
Senator Saxby Chambliss, the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, had told reporters he had seen photos from the raid inside Pakistan, which led to the death of the terrorist mastermind by US special forces commandos.
“They’re what you would expect from somebody’s been shot in the head. It’s not pretty,” he said, hours before it became clear that inauthentic photos had circulated among US lawmakers.
Asked whether Chambliss, who is also a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, had in fact seen an official photo, spokeswoman Bronwyn Lance-Chester told AFP late in the day that “he has been very clear about this: He has not seen the official photo.”
Two other members of the armed services committee, Republican Senators Kelly Ayotte and Scott Brown, also backed off claims that they had seen gruesome photos of bin Laden’s corpse.
Three days after a team of elite US Navy SEALS avenged the 2001 attacks, which killed nearly 3,000 people, national security experts combed a haul of evidence from the Pakistani mansion that served as bin Laden’s lair.
The trove, including about five computers, 10 hard drives and 100 storage devices, represents a dramatic intelligence breakthrough for the United States in its fight against Al-Qaeda, said the experts.
“I’ll be very surprised if this isn’t a gold mine for us,” said John McLaughlin, a former CIA deputy director.
“I think we’re probably going to find reports of potential plotting.
“We’ll probably find something about funding. We may learn something about whatever relationship he did or didn’t have with Pakistan. We’ll learn about key aides,” he told CNN.
The top US law enforcement official defended the legality of the special forces swoop, after it emerged on Tuesday that bin Laden had been unarmed at the time he was shot.
The operation “was lawful and consistent with our values,” Attorney General Eric Holder told Senate lawmakers.
Senator Lindsey Graham asked whether a Navy SEAL “had to believe” the world’s most wanted man “was a walking IED” or bomb.
“Exactly,” Holder agreed.
US authorities insist US commandos were not on a kill only mission but have come under pressure to explain the apparent contradiction that bin Laden “resisted” capture but was unarmed.
“If he had surrendered, I think — attempted to surrender — I think we should, obviously, have accepted that,” Holder said. “But there was no indication that he wanted to do that. And, therefore, his killing was appropriate.”
And Senator Dianne Feinstein said she was told bin Laden was about to grab a weapon when he was shot dead.
“I believe he was preparing to resist. And that’s why the shots were taken,” she told CNN in an interview.
“There were arms directly near the door and my understanding is he was right there and going to get those arms. So, you know, you really can’t take a chance. This is the number one target.
“This is the mastermind that killed 3,000 of our citizens. And there had to be justice. And the only way to achieve that justice is a life for a life in this case,” the California senator added.
The White House released more details of the president’s Thursday trip to the Ground Zero site of the World Trade Center towers, which nearly ten years ago were turned into an inferno and toppled by airliners hijacked by Al-Qaeda operatives.
Obama will lay a wreath in memory of the victims and meet relatives of those who perished, but will not make a speech, in an apparent sign he is wary of his visit being seen as an overtly political affair.
New opinion poll data Wednesday showed Obama is enjoying a boost in popularity after hunting down America’s public enemy number one.
His approval rating surged 11 points to 57 percent in a CBS/New York Times poll while 72 percent approved of the way he is handling terrorism.
Pakistan, meanwhile, sought to deflect some of the embarrassment of bin Laden being found on its soil — and of its failure to heed US calls to find him in a purpose-built garrison.
Officials said the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency had no idea bin Laden was holed up in the compound in Abbottabad, home to Pakistan’s equivalent of the West Point and Sandhurst military academies.
But Salman Bashir, the top civil servant in Pakistan’s foreign ministry, told the BBC Wednesday the ISI had alerted the United States to its suspicions about the imposing compound “as far back as 2009”.
But it was not known at the time that bin Laden was there and there were “millions” of other suspect locations, Bashir said.
Pakistani intelligence officials said agents raided the bin Laden compound in 2003 when it was still being built, looking for then Al-Qaeda number three Abu Faraj al-Libbi, who escaped and was eventually captured two years later.
In Pakistan itself, conspiracy theories have proliferated after bin Laden’s body was buried at sea off a US warship to forestall the prospect of a grave on land becoming an extremist shrine.
Police on Wednesday sealed off the Bilal suburb of Abbottabad, after crowds gathered outside the bin Laden compound, with hundreds of officers stationed around the area.