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Posted at 07:41 PM ET, 05/03/2011

Panetta: Bin Laden photo may be eventually released, but White House makes final call

(J. Scott Applewhite / AP)
CIA Director Leon Panetta said Tuesday evening that he believes the Obama administration will ultimately release to the public photographs of Osama bin Laden taken after the al-Qaeda leader was killed by U.S. forces at his compound in Pakistan, but that “the White House makes that final decision.”

“I mean, I think it will be,” Panetta said when asked whether he thought the photos would eventually be released.

He added, however, that “I don’t think you have to convince the world because of the DNA and all of the other proof that we have.”

Panetta made the remarks to reporters after he left a closed-door briefing in the Capitol Visitor Center after he and other administration officials briefed senators on the mission.

The White House has said it has not yet made a decision on whether to publicly release the photos. Officials have expressed concern that while the gruesome images might serve as proof of bin Laden’s death, they could also inflame tensions around the world.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) said earlier Tuesday that he believed any debate over releasing the photos was premature.

“I don’t think we have to make that judgment yet, frankly,” Kerry said after Senate Democrats’ weekly caucus meeting. “I think that there’s a lot of evidence that there’s a pretty broad acceptance that he’s dead. And I think the facts of this case are pretty compelling. So I just think it’s premature to be in a position where we feel we’ve got to somehow do that to answer any questions.”

Kerry added that he hadn’t seen any of the bin Laden images, but has received “very good descriptions of them.”

Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-Calif.), the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said after leaving an earlier briefing Tuesday by Panetta for House members that he believed the White House should “probably not” release the photos.

“I haven’t seen it, but I’ve heard that it –- you know, when you take a couple of shots in the face,” McKeon said. “I mean, we’re used to seeing all that stuff, you watch NCIS and all that kind of gruesome stuff on TV, but to release that just might inflame passions. That still may end up doing it, but I don’t know.”

By  |  07:41 PM ET, 05/03/2011

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