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Why President Obama Made the Right Choice on bin Laden Death Photos - The LAMP

Why President Obama Made the Right Choice on bin Laden Death Photos

By May 4, 2011 News No Comments

President Obama on "60 Minutes." Photo: CBS.

This afternoon we learned that the photos of Osama Bin Laden’s corpse would not be released to the public. In an interview for “60 Minutes,” President Obama said he was concerned the graphic images would raise national security risks. He is absolutely right–but there are plenty of other reasons to keep the photos classified.

We live in a culture that is obsessed with sharing, but just as we teach our LAMP students that you can never really take something down from the Internet, there are lines to be crossed. No matter how guilty we may be of “I wanna see!” syndrome, those impulses should not always be indulged. An image of someone who has been shot in the head is not, and should not be, entertainment. It won’t lead to the cathartic release we all yearn for. Even after seeing the photo of our fallen enemy, we will all still be angry about the thousands of lives lost as a result of his actions.

There is an argument that the photos are essentially information, and that information should be freed given the suffering caused by bin Laden. According to Representative Duncan Hunter from California, “As Americans we deserve to see them.” However, bin Laden killed people from all over the world, and the loved ones of his victims worldwide have no more or less of a “right” to see him than anyone else. We deserve nothing which we have not already gotten. More details and information will continue to emerge about the operation at Abbottabad, and information junkies that we are, we will continue to gobble up whatever the media shares with us. I don’t believe the White House is trying to cover up some conspiracy by withholding the photos, and perhaps that’s my own naivete, but I cannot come up with any good reason for why they should be shared. None of us deserve to see those photos.

I mean that as a compliment. When Daniel Pearl was killed in 2002, a video of his beheading circulated on the Internet. The FBI tried to have it banned online, but they encountered the same frustration that almost anyone on Facebook has experienced–the video can’t really come down. I was in college at the time, and when someone brought the video up on their computer in a room full of my friends, I didn’t want to be the one person who wasn’t ‘brave’ enough to watch it. After I saw it, I had nightmares for a long time, and have never been able to really expel the image from my mind. I indulged the same “I wanna see!” syndrome that persists today, and it was a horrible choice. If the government somehow had the power to keep the video under wraps, I hope they would have. Images like that cannot be unseen or forgotten.

–Emily Long
Follow me on Twitter: @emlong