Friday, May 06, 2011

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Bullets

Earlier this week, President Obama said he would not release photos showing Osama bin Laden’s dead body. The President should know: The First Amendment does not negotiate with terrorists.

Obama deserves all the credit coming to him for Bin Laden’s killing (anyone trying to give credit to George W. Bush should stop now and save themselves the embarrassment), but he is not the nation’s censor or moral scold.

The things our government does with our tax dollars are, except in cases of national security, public information. Obama doesn’t have a choice in the matter; no president does. The Freedom of Information Act ensures that we can all admire the bloody sight of bin Laden’s bullet-marked face. Democracies can’t survive when leaders get to decide what the public gets to see about what they do.

Furthermore, the rationale behind not releasing the bin Laden photos is somewhat absurd. The President claims that doing so would harm our interests in the Arab world and among Muslims because it would inflame Arab and Muslim sensibilities. The larger and more substantial policies that have angered Arabs and Muslims for decades—interfering in Muslim countries, giving carte blanch to Israel—will continue unabated, but we’re supposed to pat ourselves on the back because of how sensitive we are to their sensibilities because we’re not publishing a grisly photo of bin Laden.

If the President’s portrayal of the larger Muslim world is to be believed, then bin Laden was rightfully so reviled that showing photos of his corpse should not offend anyone. Fanatics who would be offended by publishing these photos are going to hate us anyway, so why should be bother trying to appease them?

There is no shame in relishing the death of an enemy like bin Laden. He slaughtered thousands of innocent people under the delusion that he was doing holy work. Our obligation to his memory ended when he left the realm of decency and humanity.

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