On the Moral Difficulties of Releasing bin Laden’s Death Photos

As a Gemini, it’s easy to say I have two opinions: 1) Osama was a piece of shit who deserves to sleep with the fishes, so therefore in the interests of visual closure let the 9/11 images be bookended with that of his one-eyed corpse; and 2) in the Middle East, that image will take on the same significance a portrait of the Prophet would, and more destabilization would be the result. And sure, in the first 24 hours I felt the same release of decade-old hostility as you might’ve. I wanted at first, for a minute, to believe that fake photo circulating online was for real. (I’m not linking to it because in many cases the image/video is infected with viruses, FYI)

It wasn’t. Oh, well.

For myself, I don’t need to see the photos. I’ve a fair imagination and in this case I’m trusting the SEAL team and the President. It’s also understandable why the Navy wound up burying him at sea; no nation could accept his body without consenting to its eventual enshrinement. This way, all the people who followed him can do is make a trek to Abbotabad—soon, while they can, because clearly the Pakistani government will level it.

Or Obama might.

I think there has to be a limit to celebrating here. That first day, after nearly ten years, meant something and it was right that people stop and carefully consider what’s happened. On the other hand, the NYC celebration was, well, disturbing. At first I thought it’d look like V-E Day, but I saw young revelers without any real idea who bin Laden even was, partying it up near the WTC site as though any reason was good enough to raise the wrist. The White House version felt jingoistic and, quickly, quite uncomfortable.

I know it felt good that he’d been caught. I did not like the blood-thirst. That, folks, is beneath us all—and by all, I mean every last one of us, everyone alive. If we don’t aspire to something more than this, we’re condemning ourselves to a kind of new barbarism that would make the Middle Ages look like a first run-through.

If this sounds like I’m backing off on my own anger, you’d be right. I drank that bile down for a day. Tasted like shit, but I did it.  You see, there are true moral issues here: If the photos are released, then the U.S. is no better than al-Qaeda, which has routinely shown off the bodies of dead Americans. I’ve heard this phrase lately on the news: Proof of death. I can understand that sentiment; “If we don’t release the photos, we open ourselves up to conspiratists who’d never let us hear the end of it, as with Hitler.” My dad, who served in World War Two, told me when I was a kid that all he wanted was Hitler’s mustache (and apparently the upper lip on which it resided). He was always worried that somehow Hitler got away. I think my dad died still wondering. But now we know the Russians took care of Hitler and Eva Braun’s bodies. We know they never made it out of the bunker. Likewise, I’m certain Osama’s doin’ the Luca Brasi right now. So, for me, it’s over but for history in the passing of time. I was lucky; I didn’t lose anyone close to me on 9/11, but I surely know people who did, and their anger’s also understandable. But for anyone who feels the photos’ release is essential, let me ask you to consider how angry you were over the gruesome displays of Americans hanging from a bridge; did you need to see that image to know they were dead?

The other argument concerns Uday and Qusay Hussein, Saddam’s sons. Bush/Cheney had no moral compunction over releasing those photos. How necessary were they to you? Would you have believed Bush/Cheney any more completely had they chosen not to release them? They were just as dead either way. Yes, I know they were all bloodthirsty bastards, all of them, but why should we all climb into the pit with them?

I have another idea. Our exemplar in this case, Osama bin Laden, is as dead as he can possibly be. He is not coming back; there’ll be no sequel. While we should never forget al-Qaeda still exists, as do all those other “franchises” around the world (A-Q AP, for one), the man who founded al-Qaeda, the man who gave the green light to Mohammad Atta and his crew, is through giving orders. Someone else will, but he won’t. In like manner, it’s possible to let go your own hatred and rage, which those photos would only enflame.

It’s time to lay this anger down, and remember that bin Laden’s teachings were the corruptive force, not Islam itself. Let’s stop feeding this fire.


About johnwylam1957

I'm a poet and teacher now living in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
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5 Responses to On the Moral Difficulties of Releasing bin Laden’s Death Photos

  1. Pingback: On the Moral Difficulties of Releasing bin Laden’s Death Photos (via John Wylam’s Blog) « Beneath the Tin Foil Hat

  2. Don in Mass says:

    Great post, and I agree with you 100%.

  3. David Gillaspie says:

    A friend’s daughter posted a great Martin Luther King quote on facebook, the one about death. It fit the moment, now passed, but the story keeps evolving.

    This guy’s dead whether he pushed a woman in front of him, whipped out a pair of Duke’s autograph edition .45’s, and went down blazing, or took one to the chest, thrashed around, then got the migrane.

    Either way, still dead. I was thinking of a similar themed post, but you covered it. Thanks, man.

  4. Tom Huff says:

    Good post, mostly agree on everything you have to say! Bravo!

    Now with that said, I want to “Spike the Damn Football”

    Now with that said, I still want to “Spike the Damn Football”

    But now, after taking a minute to really think really hard about it… I want to “Spike the Damn Football”

  5. afrankangle says:

    Well said. Thanks.

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