Now we can all see those photos of bin Laden

In 2011, I met an American diplomat of some sort attending Chabad’s seder in Kathmandu. I have his card somewhere — assuming it’s his real card — but the one fact about him I remember without even looking at it is where he was stationed: in Pakistan. He traveled all the way to Kathmandu to celebrate Passover presumably because he didn’t trust the kashrus in Isalamabad.

One week after Passover 2011 drew to a close, Osama bin Laden was caught and killed by the United States. I like to imagine my new acquaintance, and the interesting week/month/year/[however much longer he was in Pakistan] he had for himself.

I was probably among the last Americans on this planet to find out about the strike. Living in a remote Nepali village, without electricity, without television, and without the internet made keeping up with the outside world somewhat difficult. Apparently, the passal (where we took all our meals twenty minutes up the road) carried Obama’s speech live — but it was a cold and rainy night, and the volunteers all stayed home. All that was reported to us the next day was that President Obama had been on television — which was actually impressive, given that many of the people in our village did not recognize the name Obama (or find Nepal on a map of the world).

Being so far away from the United States at such a tumultuous time was interesting for another reason as well: rather than celebrate the event with my American friends (firing AK-47s into the air and handing out candy, I’m sure), I experienced it in the company of Nepalis. To them, it was something that happened. Whatever. And as I recounted in my blog, they weren’t entirely clear on the details of what had gone down with the body.

As it turns out, neither was the rest of the world. The military reportedly disposed of Osama’s body over the side of a ship, and the Obama administration refused to release photographs in an effort to prevent the image from inciting riots that would put Americans abroad at risk (just look at what happened in Benghazi! – and all from one little movie ;-)):

The images show a dead bin Laden at his compound in Pakistan, the transportation of his body to a U.S. ship and his burial at sea, the government has said.

Some of the photographs were taken so the CIA could conduct facial recognition analysis to confirm the body’s identity.

In May, a federal court of appeals upheld that decision, ruling “that the U.S. government had properly classified top secret more than 50 images of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden taken after his death, and that [it] did not need to release them.” The opinion noted, “It is undisputed that the government is withholding the images not to shield wrongdoing or avoid embarrassment, but rather to prevent the killing of Americans and violence against American interests.”

But if there are people out there (in more ways than one) who doubt the moon landing occurred and allege conspiracy theories around 9/11, you can be sure there are people unwilling to believe the government killed Osama bin Laden without photographic evidence. Indeed, there are probably those would not be convinced even with that proof — the photos were doctored, staged, that’s not him, that’s No Scar — but there’s not much I can do for them.

What I can do is suggest how the government could release images of Osama bin Laden in such a way that the doubters would have their proof, the American people’s desire for revenge and closure could be satisfied, and the terrorists and rioters would not acquire a totem around which to rally.

We have the technology. And as I understand it, we call it Snapchat.

The alternative is waiting for the next Edward Snowden (or this one!) to hand it over for us.


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