Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., criticized President Barack Obama’s decision Wednesday not to release death photos of terrorist Osama bin Laden.
Graham on Monday had congratulated Obama on Sunday’s daring raid that killed the al-Qaida leader, but he said withholding photos of bin Laden’s corpse would raise questions about whether he is really dead.
“The whole purpose of sending our soldiers into the compound, rather than (delivering) an aerial bombardment, was to obtain indisputable proof of bin Laden’s death,” Graham said.
“I know bin Laden is dead, but the best way to protect our decisions overseas is to prove that fact to the rest of the world,” the second-term senator said. “I’m afraid the decision made today by President Obama will unnecessarily prolong this debate.”
Obama, though, said releasing photos of the slain terrorist would amount to gloating that would only inflame anti-American sentiment and do nothing to satisfy skeptics.
“That’s not who we are,” Obama told CBS in an interview. “We don’t trot out this stuff as trophies.”
White House officials said Wednesday that other evidence of bin Laden’s death might be released eventually, possibly including Navy records of the burial at sea and records of the DNA analysis and facial recognition analysis that U.S. officials say confirmed that it was bin Laden who was killed.
Obama and his aides, though, insisted they won’t release photos or videos of bin Laden’s corpse, or of the Islamic burial service conducted aboard the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson before the body was dropped into the North Arabian Sea.
Graham’s stance put him at odds with his close friend, Sen. John McCain of Arizona.
The 2008 Republican presidential nominee said he saw no need to release photos or videos.
“There’s ample proof that this was Osama bin Laden,” McCain said.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat who heads the Senate Intelligence Committee, said that “the DNA is conclusive.”
But the lack of hard evidence released to the public has fed a debate over whether the United States needs to prove that its Navy SEALs did, in fact, kill bin Laden.
The Taliban issued a statement in Afghanistan questioning the U.S. claim, saying the “Americans did not present sufficient evidence to prove their claim and also sources close to Osama Bin Laden have neither denied nor confirmed his death.”
Obama said he listened to arguments on both sides, then decided Wednesday.
“Keep in mind that we are absolutely certain that this was him. We’ve done DNA sampling and testing. And so there is no doubt that we killed Osama bin Laden,” he said.
“It is important for us to make sure 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,” the president said.
Moreover, he said, the photos would appear as gloating, suggesting that while that would be emotionally satisfying, it would be un-American. “We don’t need to spike the football,” he said.
Obama said there is “no doubt among al-Qaida members that he is dead.” And photos would never convince nonbelievers.
“We don’t think that a photograph, in and of itself, is going to make any difference. There are going to be some folks who deny it. The fact of the matter is, you will not see bin Laden walking on this Earth again.”
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney brushed aide questions about the internal debate and earlier comments from CIA Director Leon Panetta suggesting it was likely photos would be released. “There was a discussion to be had about the pros and cons. And the president engaged in that discussion and made a decision,” Carney said. “The final decision was not made until today.”
Carney defended the decision to give bin Laden a Muslim burial service at sea, suggesting that said more about Americans than bin Laden.
“The respect that was shown to him and his body was far greater than the respect that Osama bin Laden showed to the victims on 9/11 or any of his other victims,” Carney said. “That’s who we are.”
Carney also rejected any question of whether the U.S. acted legally in launching the raid to kill bin Laden in Pakistan.
“There is simply no question that this operation was lawful. Bin Laden was the head of al-Qaida, the organization that conducted the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001,” he said. “We acted in the nation’s self-defense.”
He was vague when asked whether the harsh interrogation of suspected terrorists, including waterboarding, helped lead the U.S. to bin Laden.
“I can say with certainty that no single piece of information, with the exception of the address of the compound, was vital to this,” he said. “ Information was gathered from detainees. We have multiple ways of gathering information: from detainees, from different methods that we have of getting information.”
Obama will travel to New York today, meeting privately with some of the families of bin Laden’s victims in the 2001 terrorist attacks, and laying a wreath at the site of the World Trade Center. The White House invited former President George W. Bush to appear with Obama in New York, but he declined.