By Kellye Coleman
On May 4 President Obama announced that the government would not release pictures of the late Osama bin Laden, former leader of the terrorist group Al Qaeda, taken post-mortem. The president has stated that it is in the interest of national security, but since the announcement, individuals have challenged the president’s decision, claiming that the photos would prove bin Laden’s death and bring further relief and reassurance for Americans.
Despite this response, several members of the Elon community support the president’s decision, stating that national security should be a priority.
Rudy Zarzar, political science professor at Elon, said he believes the decision to keep the photos private was one carefully decided upon. “I’m sure what they do in Washington is look at the benefits,” he said. “It seems like the costs of revealing the pictures are far greater than the benefits that would come out of that.”
Rudy Zarzar discusses potential reaction to the release of Osama bin Laden photographs:
According to the government, the photos are incredibly gruesome and would only serve to incite violence worldwide.
Brian Demo, recent Elon graduate and current mail center employee, said he agrees with the decision. “I think they’ve got to do what they’ve got to do for national security. So, I’m OK with them not releasing anything.”
Phil Smith, associate chaplain and director of religious life at Elon, said that on a campus such as Elon, the reaction to the release would be different than what was experienced after the announcement of bin Laden’s death. “I don’t think you would see riots like that on our campus,” he said.
Phil Smith discusses the potential reaction to the release of photos on college campuses:
The United States has been searching for the Al Qaeda leaders since 2001 following the Sept. 11 attacks in which four planes were hijacked and crashed into three national landmarks.
In the days following President Obama’s announcement of bin Laden’s death on May 1, many individuals impacted by the 2001 attacks have said they feel a sense of relief. For others, seeing photos would mean more.
According to an NBC News poll, two-thirds of Americans agree with Demo, stating that they support the decision to keep the photos under wraps. However, 24 percent surveyed said they strongly disagree, some stating that proof would bring about a complete sense of closure.
Elon senior Priscilla Abad says she would like to see photographs. “People seem to believe with their eyes and not with their ears. I kind of would like to at least have them available for viewing,” she said.
According to Abad, the way the United States has handled several aspects of the situation increase individuals’ desire to view photographs. “I think people were kind of surprised by how quickly his funeral took place,” she said. “People are even more doubtful because of the face pictures that were spread around.”
In the days following the announcement of bin Laden’s death fake photos circulated the Internet, increasing the desire to have official photographs released.
However, Zarzar says he believes that others are concerned with the methods the United States used. “Many people have raised the issue that this was clearly a violation of national law,” he said. “It looked like execution style” based on the statements the government has released about what took palce in Pakistan.
“We could have done it in a way that was more consistent with our values, how we do things in this country, but Osama bin Laden is Osama bin Laden. People can’t forget what he did,” Zarzar said.
Elon senior Christopher Spalding said he thinks that, although releasing pictures is not the right thing to do, it does raise some issues. “It does cause a little bit of speculation – is he really dead? Is he not dead? Is the U.S. just trying to assume other people are going to believe it and just not question it? Maybe, but at the same time you heard it from the president of the United States, and you’re hoping it’s true,” he said.
According to Zarzar, the decision not to release the photos also keeps individuals from viewing the U.S. as bragging. “When you reveal pictures like that it seems to send the wrong message like we’re gloating, and we don’t want to appear to show something like that where we appear to be gloating, bragging about something like that,” he said.
Zarzar says that there will consistently be individuals doubting the validity of the death announcement. “To this day you have hundreds of thousands of people who are not convinced that Osama bin Laden is dead,” he said. “As long as the pictures are not released, people are going to say ‘oh no no, Americans have lied to us before.'”
Whether the photos are released or not, Al Qaeda will bring a violent response to Osama’s death, Zarzar said. “I still believe, really given the past history of Al Qaeda, that there will be some retribution to what has happened. It’s not going to happen today, tomorrow, or next week, but it will happen. I’m almost sure of that.”