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National Politics

Amid debate, Obama mulls release of 'gruesome' bin Laden photo

The Associated Press
Published:   |   Updated: March 20, 2013 at 01:00 PM
WASHINGTON -

A White House official said the photograph of a dead Osama bin Laden is "gruesome" and that "it could be inflammatory" if released – a decision President Barack Obama is still weighing today and other continue to debate.

White House press secretary Jay Carney said the White House is mulling whether to make the photo public, but he said officials are concerned about the "sensitivity" of doing so. Carney said there is a discussion internally about the most appropriate way to handle, but "there is not some roiling debate here about this."

Although releasing the graphic image could dispel doubts that bin Laden is dead, the worry is that it would feed anti-U.S. sentiment.

CIA Director Leon Panetta said Tuesday in an NBC interview that "ultimately a photograph would be presented to the public."

"There's no question that there were concerns and there were questions that had to be debated," Panetta said. "But the bottom line is that, you know, we got bin Laden and I think we have to reveal to the rest of the world the fact that we were able to get him and kill him."

Unfounded claims that bin Laden was still alive were already building, and administration officials were eager to tamp down any conspiracy theories.

But the issue remained unsettled. White House officials said whether to release the photos was still under discussion on Wednesday.

The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., hoped the photos would not be released.

Rogers said Wednesday he was concerned the photo could be seen as a "trophy" that inflames U.S. critics and makes it harder for members of the American military deployed overseas to do their job.

"Conspiracy theorists are going to see the pictures and find 10 reasons why they think it's someone else," Rogers said on ABC's "Good Morning America."

"I don't know what we gain by showing this picture."

"A graphic image such as that has the potential to inflame a community just out of its sheer shock value," said John Ullyot, a former Republican Senate Armed Services Committee aide and Marine intelligence officer. "Even the release of a graphic photo might not close the book in some people's minds. It's a delicate balance, and the president has real downside either way he decides on this."

Ari Fleischer, press secretary to President George W. Bush, cautioned against releasing explosive photographs. "This story already has an exclamation point on it," he said.

Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., among the lawmakers who had the images described to them, played down concerns.

"They're not going to scare people off," he said. "Nothing more than you'd expect with a person with a bullet in his head."

Asked whether Obama is involved in the photo discussion, Carney said the president is involved in every aspect of this issue.

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