Photographic and video evidence of the killing of Osama bin Laden may finally be released to the U.S. public.
According to a report in The Atlantic Wire, post-mortem images of the former al-Qaeda leader may see the light of day, citing comments from Dan Metcalfe, former director of the Justice Department's Office of Information and Privacy, after he pored over the government's response to a lawsuit from activist group Judicial Watch seeking all photographs and/or video recordings related to the death of bin Laden.
U.S. Navy seals assassinated the al-Qaeda chieftain last May in a spectacular raid in a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, near the capital of Islamabad.
“If you look closely at one small segment of the government's brief, it, in effect, concedes that there are reasonably segregable, non-exempt portions of the records that are legally required to be disclosed, Metcalfe told the Atlantic Wire.
Although the Justice Department initially insisted that all records relevant to bin Laden’s killing were exempt from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act, it nonetheless raised the possibility that parts of the images and/or video of the uber-terrorist could be released without causing core harm to national security.
ABC News has reported that the Central Intelligence Agency has in its possession at least 52 images of bin Laden’s dead body, most of which are gruesome and graphic, “as they depict the fatal bullet wound to [Osama bin Laden's] head and other similarly gruesome images of his corpse.
U.S. government officials have long insisted that images of bin Laden should not be released to the public. Among other worries, they fear that the display of the former al-Qaeda boss’ horribly mangled body might “trigger violence, attacks, or acts of revenge against the United States.
On the other hand, release of the photos may prove once and for all that it was indeed bin Laden who was assassinated in the Pakistan raid, since some have speculated the corpse might not have been that of the al-Qaeda leader.
After the killing, bin Laden’s body was quickly buried at sea, in the absence of an autopsy.
Separately, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said over the weekend that he had opposed the plan to kill bin Laden.
Speaking at a Democratic Congressional retreat, Biden said that when Obama sought a consensus for the plot to kill the terrorist, only defense chief Leon Panetta gave a definitive and immediate go-ahead.
Every single person in that room hedged their bet except Leon Panetta,” Biden said.
“Leon said go. Everyone else said, 49, 51. [Obama] got to me. He said, 'Joe, what do you think?' And I said, 'You know, I didn't know we had so many economists around the table…. Mr. President, my suggestion is, don't go. We have to do two more things to see if [bin Laden is] there.”
Obama gave the order to kill bin Laden the following day.
During his recent State of the Union address, Obama directly referred to the commando raid in Pakistan.
One of my proudest possessions is the flag that the SEAL Team took with them on the mission to get bin Laden,” he said.
“On it are each of their names. Some may be Democrats. Some may be Republicans. But that doesn't matter. Just like it didn't matter that day in the Situation Room, when I sat next to Bob Gates -- a man who was George Bush's defense secretary; and Hilary Clinton, a woman who ran against me for president. All that mattered that day was the mission. No one thought about politics. No one thought about themselves.
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.