On May 1, 2011, Osama Bin Laden, the leader of the terrorist group Al-Qaeda and mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, was killed in a raid by U.S Navy Seals in a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Following his death, there were reports that the U.S government had photos of Bin Laden's body. To this day, the government hasn't released the photos for reasons of national security.
CNN cited a senior U.S. official as saying three sets of photographs of bin Laden's body exist: Photos taken at a hangar in Afghanistan, described as the most recognizable and gruesome; photos taken from the burial at sea on the USS Carl Vinson before a shroud was placed around his body; and photos from the raid itself, which include shots of the interior of the compound as well as three of the others who died in the raid.
A source told ABC News that the photos taken by the military servicemen on the scene depict the physical damage done by a "high-caliber bullet". CBS Evening News reported that the photo shows that the bullet which hit above bin Laden's left eye blew out his left eyeball and blew away a large portion of his frontal skull, exposing his brain. CBS Evening News reported that the photo shows that the bullet which hit above bin Laden's left eye blew out his left eyeball and blew away a large portion of his frontal skull, exposing his brain. CNN stated that the pictures from the Afghanistan hangar depict "a massive open head wound across both eyes. It's very bloody and gory."
On May 11, selected members of the U.S. Congress (the congressional leadership and those who serve in a committee of intelligence, homeland security, judiciary, foreign relations, and military) were shown 15 bin Laden photos. In an interview with Eliot Spitzer, U.S. Senator Jim Inhofe said that three of the photos were of bin Laden alive for identification reference. Three other photos were of the sea burial ceremony. U.S Senator Jim Inhofe, who viewed the photos, stated that the photos taken of the body on the Carl Vinson, which showed bin Laden's face after much of the blood and material had been washed away, should be released to the public.
Release of the Photos
A debate on whether the military photos should or should not be released to the public has taken place. Those supporting the release argued that the photos should be considered public records, that the photos are necessary to complete the journalistic record, and that the photos would prove bin Laden's death and therefore prevent conspiracy theories that bin Laden is still alive. Those in opposition to a release of the photos expressed concern that the photos would inflame anti-American sentiment in the Middle East.
President Obama ultimately decided not to release the photos stating "We don't trot out this stuff as trophies. We don't need to spike the football", and that he was concerned with ensuring 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." President Obama has faced criticism from some on the "right" for not releasing the photos.
The group Judicial Watch announced that they have filed a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain access to the photos. On May 9, the Department of Defense declined to process Judicial Watch's FOIA request, prompting a lawsuit. Federal judge James Boasberg ruled on this lawsuit on April 26, 2012, denying release of the photographs. A FOIA request from the Associated Press was also declined.