Why Not Charge People to See Bin Laden's Death Photo?

The proceeds could help fund America's wars abroad and other efforts in the war on terror or even a scholarship for 9/11 victims


People want to see photos of the shot-out face and body of Osama bin Laden? People want to see a wrapped body dumped into the ocean? People think it will give them satisfaction or closure (whatever that means) or proof or justice? Media organizations clamor that they have the right to see this particular government record as a matter of First Amendment principle? I have no objection to any of this even though I have no interest at all in seeing bin Laden's (so we are told) brain tissue. Chacun a son gout, as they say

I just don't think the Obama administration ought to give them up cheaply. And by that I don't only refer to the government's legal defense against the blizzard of Freedom of Information Act requests for the photographs already filed or on the way on behalf of individuals and media organizations alike. I refer also to simple market principles of supply and demand. The government is desperate for money. And it has a wholly unique "good" that many people in and out of Washington seem eager to view.

Even if you factor in the costs of security, it's a cash cow, isn't it? Say, 60 people per hour. 12 hours a day. Seven days a week. That's near $500,000 each week, I reckon. Pretty soon, you're talking real money.

Never mind giving a "select" group of federal legislators a free private viewing of the photos at Langley sometime soon. I think the government should should charge everyone who wants to see the photo a set price -- say, $100 --  and then use the proceeds to help fund the ongoing war in Afghanistan or the war in Iraq or wherever else American troops are in harm's way fighting the war on terror. Or maybe fund scholarships for the child survivors and victims of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks on America. Or maybe do better by our brave military families struggling to get by. Better yet, each person could select from one of those options when forking over their Benjamin.

No checks, please, and a service charge for all credit card orders. And if you want to contribute to paying off the national debt, that is cool, too. No one under 18 admitted. Can I see your identification papers please? The feds could make, say, five copies of each of the photos and then send them on guarded tour around the United States. It would be like the King Tut exhibit we've all endured, only instead of mummies and gold you get a quick view at a few 8 x 10 glossies. Each person would get one minute per photograph. No cameras, of course, and no cellphones or other way to disseminate the contents of the photographs.  

And then maybe when that national photo tour is over, the feds could take it overseas, to Afghanistan, Pakistan, England, or France, to see whether the good folks over there would be willing to pay up to see the show. You know, like the way America used to do it in the good old days. If you can't get the actual scalp because what's left of it is at the bottom of the sea, well then how about a photograph of it? We don't want to spike the ball, and it's too late to put bin Laden's actual head on a spike but, hey, Pakistani government officials, what a great way to pay off the debt you owe us for all that anti-terror money we've sent you over the years!

Presented by

Andrew Cohen is a contributing editor at The Atlantic. He is a legal analyst for 60 Minutes and CBS Radio News, a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice, and Commentary Editor at The Marshall Project

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well. Bestselling author Mark Bittman teaches James Hamblin the recipe that everyone is Googling.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus


How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.


Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.


The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.


Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.


Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses


Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in Politics

Just In