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Osama bin Laden death photos won't be released

May 4, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
President Barack Obama on Wednesday decided against releasing grisly photos of Osama bin Laden's body, saying, "We don't need to spike the football" in triumph.

Obama made the decision not to release the photos because of concern about a potential backlash that results in attacks against Americans, an official told ABC News.

"It's fair to say it is a gruesome photograph," said White House Press Secretary Jay Carney.

Some show bin Laden dead with a gaping gunshot wound in his forehead. Other photos show the al Qaeda kingpin lying in his compound, at a U.S. base in Afghanistan, as well as on the deck of the U.S. aircraft carrier Carl Vinson where he was dropped into the Arabian Sea wrapped in a white sheet and weighted bag.

According to ABC News, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton advised the president about concerns at the Pentagon and State Department that releasing a photograph could prompt a backlash against the U.S. for killing bin Laden where one does not seem to currently exist.

The feeling at the White House is that there are few people, even in the Muslim world, who believe that bin Laden is still alive, and releasing the photo could do more harm than good.

"The only skeptics to bin Laden's death are extremists, and they wouldn't be convinced by a photograph. So the president has to weigh the potential negatives. And there's a tremendous risk of the photo becoming a rallying cry for attacks against U.S. soldiers, government personnel, and Americans in general," one U.S. official said.

However some members of Congress, including California Sen. Barbara Boxer, weren't convinced the image should be kept private.

"I think at the end of the day to release a photo that clearly shows who it is, is probably the right way to go," said Boxer.

"The photos have to be released to make sure we get rid of any conspiracy theorists that think we didn't take care of bin Laden," said Republican Representative Joe Heck.

CIA Director Leon Panetta had been lobbying publicly for the photo's release.

ABC News reported that at a briefing on Wednesday, Carney read a transcript of an interview with President Obama on CBS News' 60 Minutes about seeing the photos of a deceased bin Laden.

Question: Did you see the pictures?

Obama: Yes.

Question: What was your reaction when you saw them?

Obama:: It was him.

Question: Why didn't you release them?

Obama: It is important for us to make sure that very graphic photos of somebody who was shot in the head are not floating around as an incitement to additional violence or as a propaganda tool. That's not who we are. We don't trot out this stuff as trophies. I think Americans and people around the world are glad that he is gone.

Question: There are people in Pakistan for example, who say, 'look, this is all a lie. Obama, this is another American trick. Osama is not dead.'

Obama: There is no doubt that Osama bin Laden is dead. And so we don't think that a photograph in and of itself is going to make any difference. There are going to be some folks who deny it. The fact of the matter is, you will not seen bin Laden walking on this Earth again.

New details about Navy SEALs raid

Panetta also released new details on the Navy SEALs assault that killed the world's most wanted terrorist.

As Obama and his security team watched the operation unfold, there was an anxiety-filled time frame of about 20 minutes when they were unsure of exactly what was going on inside the compound.

"We had some observation of the approach there, but we did not have direct flow of information as to the actual conduct of the operation itself as they were going through the compound," Panetta said.

U.S. officials weren't even sure he was there because no one had actually seen him.

"The reality was that we could have gone in there and not found bin Laden at all," Panetta said.

The White House said that bin Laden was not armed, but that he resisted commands once U.S. forces stormed his bedroom.

"It was a fire fight going up that compound," Panetta said. "And by the time they got up to that third flood and found bin Laden, this was all split-second action on the part of the SEALs."

Gunfire was turned towards bin Laden, who was shot twice, once in the head and once in the chest.

"The authority here was to kill bin Laden," Panetta said. "And obviously, under the rules of engagement, if he had in fact thrown up his hands, surrendered and didn't appear to be representing any kind of threat, then they were to capture him."

The White House is also correcting earlier versions that said bin Laden's wife was killed trying to protect him. SEALs said one of bin Laden's wives charged at them first and she was shot in the leg. It was the wife of a bin Laden aide who was killed in the firefight.

Helmet camera video and evidence

SEALs were equipped with helmet cameras, but no one in the White House actually saw the moment when the SEALs confronted bin Laden. It wasn't until commandos identified "Geronimo-EKIA," enemy killed in action, that they knew bin Laden was dead. None of the SEALs were hurt in the operation.

ABC News is reporting that a U.S. official said that the helmet camera video was largely shot as evidence to prove there was not anything they did wrong or to defend themselves if there were accusations.

"They will probably destroy that video. No one needs to see OBL get shot or others either," an official said.

However the same official also said that the evidence that was collected would have been videotaped with the search team helmet cameras so that investigators will know where it was found in the house.

ABC News is also reporting that bin Laden had an escape plan with 500 Euros, and phone numbers sewn into the clothes that he was wearing.

There were 10 computers, 10 cell phones, and 100 thumb drives found in the compound as well. The CIA is setting up a special task force that will work out its Counterterrorism Center in Northern Virginia to exploit this material.

A large team is being put together to deal with the voluminous amounts of information which must be pulled and disseminated, including computer and media specialists, linguists, intelligence analysts and experts on bin Laden and al Qaeda.

The information will then be pushed out the door to the various component agencies, including the FBI, NSA, U.S. military, Homeland Security and other agencies who will take advantage of it.

Did Pakistan know about Bin Laden's hideout?

One key question that remains is how did bin Laden hide in plain sight in Pakistan for so many years. Behind closed doors in a briefing for lawmakers, Panetta is quoted as saying: "Pakistan was involved or incompetent."

Republican Mike Rogers, who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, said while Pakistan's army and government as a whole may not have known bin Laden was living near one of their large military bases, it's likely that an individual in that circle may have known.

However, Rogers cautions against terminating U.S. aid to Pakistan prematurely, saying the country is embarrassed to find out bin Laden was hiding out so close to a Pakistani military base. He said he doesn't think severing ties completely with Pakistan is a smart move and is worried about the consequences of a love-hate relationship with Islamabad.

"We got to be careful," said Rogers. "We still need them, I think they need us. Are they the best partners we've ever had? No."

Afghanistan's defense minister said Wednesday that even a country with a weak intelligence service would have known bin Laden was living near a military academy. The neighboring countries have long had tense relations.

Pakistan's response

ABC News also reports that a senior security official for Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Agency admitted bin Laden's hiding in plain sight was "a failure," however also said that the CIA is equally to blame for how long bin Laden managed to hide.

"We didn't know he was there," said the ISI official. "Yes, that was an omission and we have been remiss in our duties. But if it's true he was living there for years and the U.S. had information, who is incompetent? If anyone failed for so long, it's the CIA."

He alleges the compound did not attract attention in part because the compound had been raided in 2003 in attempt to capture alleged senior member of al Qaeda Abu Faraj Al-Libi.

"It was a double bluff," he said. "That kind of a house is not something extraordinary, anyone with any amount of money would buy a house like that because they are paranoid about security."

The official added that the secrecy of the mission combined with Panetta's "involved or incompetent" comment has been a major blow to the cooperation amongst the two countries.

"Now there's a total deficit of trust," he said. "That is a big blow. This relationship has to be based on trust, respect and equality."

According to the official, ISI was notified about the mission 2 a.m. Monday Pakistan time, adding, "I was relieved but not happy with the way it was done."

According to ABC News, bin Laden's captured relatives are currently in Islamabad and cooperating with intelligence. Among the relatives are his youngest wife and several children, including his13-year-old daughter who allegedly witnessed his killing.

A senior U.S. official said that the U.S. has requested access to bin Laden's wife. However, the official said that the ISI told them that she needs medical treatment first.

Obama to visit ground zero

President Obama will visit ground zero Thursday to lay a wreath and hold a private meeting with relatives of some of the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks.

For New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani will also be there.

In New York City, heavily-armed police are on heightened alert. Security lines are longer than normal for commuters entering subways, bridges and tunnels.

Although, there have been no specific credible threats in New York or elsewhere, there's a fear of retaliatory strikes for the killing of bin Laden.

"We have to assume that al Qaeda or any other radicalized terrorists here at home, some self starters if you will ,lone wolfs or organized terrorist organizations in this country will launch a domestic attack," said Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King.

ABC News said the consensus among Homeland Security experts is that the immediate threat from al Qaeda is no worse than it's been since Sept. 11.

However, a Taliban spokesman told ABC News that they vow to retaliate against the infidels responsible for bin Laden's death.

Look for Eyewitness News anchor Marc Brown's reports from ground zero in New York City on Wednesday evening on Eyewitness News.