The Washington Post

Why I would’ve released the bin Laden photos

I understand why President Obama decided otherwise, and of course I respect that decision. But I think showing the world evidence — however gruesome — of the terrorist butcher’s death would have been the better call.

Why? Because while gory photographs would have inflamed some jihadists and wannabes, I believe they would have disillusioned and deflated others. A heroic myth of invulnerability had been built around bin Laden. He was supposed to have cheated death while fighting the Russians in Afghanistan, walking tall through fields of fire as the bullets somehow missed. He escaped the Americans who cornered him at Tora Bora. He evaded capture for a decade, despite the best efforts of the West’s spies and soldiers.

Showing him in death would definitively refute any notion that bin Laden enjoyed some kind of divine protection. The myth would die with the man.

It’s also true that photographic evidence would silence most, but not all, of the conspiracy theorists (who are surely putting on their tinfoil hats as we speak). But this is just a secondary consideration, because the wing nuts won’t get any traction. I doubt that even Donald Trump is going to endorse a theory that requires calling Navy SEALs a bunch of bald-faced liars — not to mention the entire military and intelligence chains of command.

The reason to display the photos is to show bin Laden for what he really was: not a holy warrior, not a holy anything, but a deluded mass murderer who met the end he so richly deserved.

Eugene Robinson writes a twice-a-week column on politics and culture, contributes to the PostPartisan blog, and hosts a weekly online chat with readers. In a three-decade career at The Post, Robinson has been city hall reporter, city editor, foreign correspondent in Buenos Aires and London, foreign editor, and assistant managing editor in charge of the paper’s Style section.


Success! Check your inbox for details. You might also like:

Please enter a valid email address

See all newsletters

Show Comments
Most Read


Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Your Three. Videos curated for you.
Play Videos
How to make Sean Brock's 'Heritage' cornbread
New limbs for Pakistani soldiers
The signature dish of Charleston, S.C.
Play Videos
Why seasonal allergies make you miserable
John Lewis, 'Marv the Barb' and the politics of barber shops
What you need to know about filming the police
Play Videos
The Post taste tests Pizza Hut's new hot dog pizza
5 tips for using your thermostat
Michael Bolton's cinematic serenade to Detroit
Play Videos
Full disclosure: 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, 1 ghoul
Pandas, from birth to milk to mom
The signature drink of New Orleans