Osama bin Laden is dead. Of that, I have no doubt. To question this statement one would have to question the skill and bravery of the Navy SEALS and believe that the master terrorist who occasionally appears in propaganda videos and audio recordings is capable of perpetually eluding all human and technological intelligence.
The unparalleled success of last Sunday’s mission makes President Obama’s decision to not release the bin Laden “death photographs” especially confounding. When an event organizer cut off the sound to candidate Ronald Reagan during a debate with George H.W. Bush, Reagan famously said, “I paid for this microphone!”
Well, Mr. President, the American people paid for those photographs. More than a trillion dollars, in fact, if you factor in the cost of the Department of Homeland Security, two wars, and the care for more than 40,000 veterans who have been wounded in Afghanistan and Iraq.
President Obama said that “given the graphic nature of these photos it would create a national security risk.” I respectfully disagree.
Radical Islam creates the national security risk. There were no photographs that prompted the attacks on 9/11, the missile strike on the USS Cole or the bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Lebanon. Does anyone seriously believe that the terrorists will hate us less if the photos are not released than they already do now? Will the “death to America” chants that have existed since the Iranian hostage crisis suddenly morph into love sonnets?
The American people are tired of walking on eggshells to placate a violent ideology that respects neither innocent civilians nor the amazing humanitarian work performed by our soldiers every day. The problem is not blasphemous cartoons or even misguided pastors burning Korans. It’s the people who react with barbarous acts of violence usually inflicted on innocents who had nothing to do with the original “offense.” Where does the First Amendment include exception clauses for cases that might incite radical Islamists? Mr. President, they hate us anyway.
My organization, The American Legion, does not rejoice at any death. But let us remember what bin Laden has wrought. He is the reason more than 6,000 U.S. military families have buried loved ones lost in combat since 9/11. He is the reason our children are now groped in airports by security officials. He is the reason that the level of mistrust between the overwhelming majority of peaceful Muslims and those of other faiths exists.
It is not about gathering trophies or “spiking the football,” as the president mischaracterized it. It’s about showing a replay to season ticket holders who were barred from entering the stadium.
The photos are no doubt bloody and graphic. But do you know what else is painful to see? The burns on the faces of patients at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Or the eyes of Michael Nordmeyer, the father of 21-year-old Zach Nordmeyer, a soldier and member of The American Legion who was killed in Iraq two years ago. It still pains most of us to look at images of firefighters running into the World Trade Center for the very last time.
There will be some who doubt the official version of bin Laden’s death whether the photographs are released or not. But not releasing this evidence would surely be adding steroids to these nonsensical conspiracy theories.
Some say the photographs will bring closure. Others see it as a need to satisfy a thirst for vengeance. I prefer to think of them as symbols of justice.
The raid on bin Laden’s hide-out is a truly great moment in American history.
Mr. President, release the photographs. We paid an enormous price for them.
Jimmie L. Foster of Anchorage, Alaska, is national commander of The American Legion, the nation’s largest wartime veterans organization with 2.4 million members.