03 May 2011

The Passion of the Osama: The Political Lives of Dead Bodies (3)

Well, as I suggested yesterday morning, the military did indeed photograph Bin Laden's corpse after killing him. And the "controversy" is on as to whether, why and how the government might release the images. It is, of course, simply a matter of time.

This issue has popped up here at The New York Times. And, over breakfast I heard this report on npr; it is an interview by host Steve Inskeep with Obama administration counter-terrorism boss John Brennan. Here is the concluding exchange:
INSKEEP: In a few seconds, Mr. Brennan, why haven't you released photos of Osama bin Laden?

Mr. BRENNAN: We are in the process of releasing a lot of information to the American public. We want to do it in a thoughtful manner.

INSKEEP: But why not photos?

Mr. BRENNAN: We are considering, at this point, releasing additional information, but that is a decision to be determined.

INSKEEP: So you may release photos, but not yet.

Mr. BRENNAN: So we may release photos, yes.

INSKEEP: What would prompt you to do that?

Mr. BRENNAN: There is not a question at this point, I think, in anybody's mind that bin Laden is dead. And so I know that there are some people who are interested in having visual proof. This is something that we're taking into account, but what we don't want to do is to release anything that might be either misunderstood or that would cause other problems.


MR. BRENNAN: We are looking at these decisions and we'll make the right decisions.

INSKEEP: Mr. Brennan, thanks very much for your time.

Mr. BRENNAN: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: John Brennan is assistant to the president for Homeland Security and counterterrorism, part of the team that made decisions that led to the death of Osama Bin Laden. . . . It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

Ghosts walk among us. Not everyone wishes to acknowledge them. No one agrees what they might do. And everyone seems worried about how others might respond to them.

Update: Here is a post from "The Lede" blog at The New York Times this afternoon:
3:29 P.M. U.S. Has 'Gruesome Photograph' of Bin Laden's Body

Pressed by reporters to explain why no photographs or video of Osama bin Laden's body have been released yet, the White House press secretary, Jay Carney, said Tuesday afternoon, "It's fair to say that it is a gruesome photograph.

Mr. Carney also said: I'll be candid that there are sensitivities here in terms of the appropriateness of releasing photographs of Osama bin Laden and in the aftermath of this firefight. And we're making an evaluation about the need to do that because of the sensitivities involved. And we do– we review this information and make this decision with the same calculation as we do so many things, which is what, you know, what we're trying to accomplish, and does it serve or in any way harm our interests. And that is not just domestic, but globally.

Update (2): Here are some more interventions:
[i] A News report from "All things Considered" here;
[ii] A plea to withhold the photograph from Phillip Gourevitch at The New Yorker here.



Blogger Natalie said...

I, personally, will be very disappointed if the government of the United States makes the decision to officially share photos of Osama bin Laden's dead body, while still limiting the public's access to other images of war. (In particular, images of our dead soldiers, of dead combattants, and of dead civilians.) Use of the photographic media in this way would feel imperial and propagandist. At least to me it would. I think that if we are going to be asked to contribute tax dollars to war(s), we should have the ability to see (be confronted with) the consequences of actions taken in war, and ultimately decide whether it is our collective desire to continue funding war(s). But those are just my two cents.

03 May, 2011 14:42  
Blogger VQ Bubba said...

John Stewart makes a similar point (to a stunned-into-silence audience) at about 3:43 on the Face/Off segment of his opening monologue at www.thedailyshow.com

Echoes Natalie's comments that this is not about further proof of bin Laden's death, but should be cast in the larger context of confronting the realities of the wars we fight.

05 May, 2011 10:11  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...

Here is the direct JS link:


05 May, 2011 10:29  

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