In Search of the Image That Satisfies

Osama bin Laden is dead.

The faces of our friends and colleagues who we lost because of his murderous ideology and actions are, and will always be, seared into our hearts. Americans who ran inside of the towers as they were falling, who fought to retake a hijacked plane, who enlisted and answered our nations call after September 11, 2001. We have met many of those left behind who cling to memories and photos, who spend time painfully reliving last conversations.

My own desire to see justice brought to Osama bin Laden was one of the reasons I spent 10 years in the Army, including much of 2005 and 2006 with the 82nd Airborne Division as a Paratrooper in Afghanistan along the border with Pakistan.

I was among those cheering as word spread bin Laden was killed, but as we inch closer to a decision to release the photos of his dead body, I cannot say I share the same joy.

I understand the rationale behind it, not just for the emotional justification but for the practical certitude it would give people around the world that he is dead. However, seeing a grisly photo of bin Laden will do nothing to decrease our collective pain nor give us collective closure. Our exuberance about hearing the news of his demise and the ensuing celebration, should be met with a clear, sober and resolute focus on where we are now and how we keep tragedies like 9/11 from ever happening again.

One way of doing it is making sure we are not fueling the flames that foster resentment, and the release of these photos does exactly that. As the head of al-Azhar, the Muslim world's oldest religious institution, said, "I think showing these photos will not be wise and will reflect an image of American hubris."

There are real considerations the White House must factor in to make this decision. Practical, political, and emotional. The majority of our nation has indicated they want to see the photos, an understandable feeling. Also, we do not want to have to keep dealing with this issue, the small but potentially vocal worldwide minority could use this to spread enduring conspiracy theories.

These are the reasons I am assuming that we are within days, possibly hours before the release of the gruesome photos of bin Laden's death. I just wish we did not have to. Just as intensely as we think about the ones who were left behind by bin Laden's inhumanity, we also should think about how parents will have to explain to the young children of our nation why the face of man with bullet holes in his head is on the cover of every newspaper in the country.

Our leaders and special operations forces executed an extraordinarily difficult operation boldly, with precision and a genuine concern for collateral damage. And this operation undoubtedly made us safer in the long term. But I do question whether the release of the photos makes us and our allies less safe in the short term. At this moment of decision we must remember who we are and what makes us strong. The outcry over his death thus far has been shockingly low. A few dozen protesters showed up in Gaza. Even fewer marched through Karachi. There is nothing that Osama bin Laden wanted more than to be a martyr and create fury over his death. Lets not assist him in that process.

The world is a better place with bin Laden gone. I can imagine his face when the door opened and SEAL Team Six stormed in. I am satisfied with that mental image. I don't need to see any more.

Wes Moore is the New York Times bestselling author of The Other Wes Moore and an Adjunct Fellow at the Center for Strategic International Studies (CSIS). He also served as a advisor to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as a White House Fellow.

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