Release of bin Laden photo could be 'inflammatory'

The White House says it's worried that releasing a photo of the body of slain al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden could be "inflammatory."

Bin Laden unarmed when killed, White House says

Raid details

12 years ago
Duration 2:20
U.S. authorities have substantially revised their account of what happened when U.S. Navy Seals raided Osama bin Laden's compound


  • Pakistan 'deeply concerned' with U.S. raid
  • $1.3B in aid under threat
  • Computers, DVD's, documents seized

The White House says it's worried that releasing a photo of the body of slain al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden could be "inflammatory."

"There are sensitivities here in terms of the appropriateness of releasing photos of Osama bin Laden," White House press secretary Jay Carney told a press briefing Tuesday. 

"It's fair to say that it's a gruesome photograph."

Officials have told The Associated Press that the Obama administration has pictures that show a killshot directly above bin Laden's left eye. The administration is also weighing whether to release video of his swift burial at sea.

After word of the top-secret mission broke late Sunday night, officials were initially reluctant to inflame Islamic sentiment by showing graphic images of the body. But they were also eager to address the mythology already building in Pakistan and beyond that bin Laden was somehow still alive.

People read the newspapers with cover stories of Osama bin Laden in Riyadh on Tuesday. (Mohammed Mashhor/Reuters)

U.S. officials say the photographic evidence shows bin Laden was shot above his left eye, blowing away part of his skull.

He was also shot in the chest, they said. That came near the end of a frenzied firefight in a high-walled Pakistani compound where helicopter-borne U.S. forces found 23 children, nine women, a bin Laden courier who had unwittingly led the U.S. to its target, a son of bin Laden who was also slain and more.

Carney said earlier reports that said one of bin Laden's wives was killed in the firefight were not correct. She was injured when shot in the leg, he said.

Carney also revealed that bin Laden was not armed but was shot and killed when he "resisted." Carney would not be specific about the nature of that resistance.

Waterboarding used for information

CIA director Leon Panetta said in an interview with NBC News that enhanced interrogation techniques, which included waterboarding during the Bush administration, were used to extract some of the information that helped track down bin Laden.

"In the intelligence business you work from a lot of sources of information and that was true here," Panetta said. "We had a multiple source — a multiple series of sources — that provided information with regards to the situation. Clearly some of it came from detainees and the interrogation of detainees but we also had information from other sources as well."

Asked if he was denying that waterboarding was in part among the tactics used to extract information, Panetta said: "No, I think some of the detainees clearly — they used these enhanced interrogation techniques against some of these detainees. But the debate about whether we would have gotten the same information through other approaches I think is always going be an open question."

Asked if enhanced interrogation techniques included waterboarding, Panetta said "that's correct."

The use of waterboarding on detainees during the Bush administration became a major source of controversy.

Meanwhile, more details emerged Tuesday of what was obtained during the daring late-night raid. The assault team came away with hard drives, DVDs, documents and more that might tip U.S. intelligence to al-Qaeda's operational details and perhaps lead the manhunt to the presumed next-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahri. The CIA is already going over the material.

"We're moving with great dispatch to mine that" material for insights into terror plots that may be in the works and for clues as to the location of senior al-Qaeda officials, White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan said Tuesday on television news shows.

News of bin Laden death 'unified our country'

Obama has basked in the adulation of domestic lawmakers and international leaders since word of the successful mission got out. Republican and Democratic leaders alike gave him a standing ovation at an evening White House meeting that was planned before the assault, but became a celebration of it, and an occasion to step away from the fractious political climate Monday.

"Last night's news unified our country," much like the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, did, Republican House Speaker John Boehner said earlier in the day.

The U.S. president will travel to New York to mark the milestone and remember the dead of Sept. 11 on Thursday.

Pakistani officials were noticeably absent from the international accolades Obama collected for the successful mission Monday.

In this image released by the White House and digitally altered by the source to diffuse the paper in front of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, along with members of the national security team, receive an update on the mission against Osama bin Laden on Sunday, May 1. ((Pete Souza/The White House/Associated Press) )

The incident was an embarrassment at best for Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari. The mission happened only several hundred metres from a Pakistani army base, but the government was only aware of its existence after the fact. No prior American notice was given.

CIA director Leon Panetta told Time magazine that the U.S. ruled out informing Pakistan of the coming raid early on, because "it was decided that any effort to work with the Pakistanis could jeopardize the mission. They might alert the targets."

Indeed, questions persist about whether some elements of Pakistan's security apparatus might have been in collusion with bin Laden. It's now believed he had been living in the area for several years — less than 200 kilometres away from the Pakistani capital of Islamabad.

Brennan asked the question on Tuesday that was reverberating around the world: "How did Osama bin Laden stay at that compound for six years or so and be undetected?"

"We have many, many questions about this," he said. "And I know Pakistani officials do as well."

Zardari dismisses being soft on terror

Brennan said Pakistani officials were trying to determine "whether there were individuals within the Pakistani government or military intelligence services who were knowledgeable."

For its part, Pakistan says it is deeply concerned over what it said was an "unauthorized" American raid that killed bin Laden. The government statement Tuesday said the raid should not serve as a precedent for future U.S. actions in the country.

In an opinion article published Monday by the Washington Post, Zardari dismissed notions that his government was in cahoots with Islamists or soft on terror in any way.

"Some in the U.S. press have suggested that Pakistan lacked vitality in its pursuit of terrorism, or worse yet that we were disingenuous and actually protected the terrorists we claimed to be pursuing," Zardari said.

"Such baseless speculation may make exciting cable news, but it doesn’t reflect fact. Pakistan had as much reason to despise al-Qaeda as any nation," he said.

"The war on terrorism is as much Pakistan’s war as it is America’s."

He said Pakistan can take some satisfaction that its early assistance in identifying an al-Qaeda courier ultimately led to the trail back to bin Laden's hiding place.

A schism between the two countries could cost both sides a lot. Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, the head of the Senate intelligence committee, said Washington would consider reducing the almost $1.3 billion the U.S. gives to Pakistan in aid every year.

When asked about the strains between the U.S. and Pakistan, Carney acknowledged that "it's a complicated but important relationship." 

With files from The Associated Press