Members of Congress Describe the Bin Laden Photos

Viewing the images hasn't changed anyone's opinion on releasing them

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It's been a busy day at CIA headquarters in Northern Virginia. Various members of Congress have been streaming in from Washington, D.C. on Thursday to view the postmortem photographs of Osama bin Laden after the CIA invited members of the House and Senate armed forces and intelligence committees to view the photos and see why the Obama Administration decided not to release them to the public.

No one that The Atlantic Wire spoke to seems to have had their mind changed on the question of releasing the photos after actually seeing them. Sen. Joseph Lieberman and Rep. Michele Bachmann are still in agreement with the White House that the images of bin Laden's corpse should not be made public. Rep. Doug Lamborn, however, agreed with Sen. James Inhofe that some of the photos taken of bin Laden's body aboard the USS Vinson are suitable for release. Shortly after leaving CIA headquarters yesterday afternoon, Inhofe told The Atlantic Wire, "It's much more reasonable to show the public these photos."

Lieberman viewed the photographs this morning because he felt it was his responsibility to see them given his role as chairman of the Homeland Security Committee. "He believes that there should be no doubt whatsoever that Osama bin Laden is indeed dead," his spokesperson Whitney Phillips told The Atlantic Wire. "Senator Lieberman also agrees with President Obama’s decision not to release the photos.”

Lamborn, a Republican from Colorado, swung by the Langley compound earlier today, and seconded Inhofe's view. "It brought me closure," he said in a statement, "I believe the Administration should consider releasing the least graphic of the photos because it could bring closure for the victims’ families, and for all Americans. Secondly, it shows the world that Osama bin Laden’s narrative of America being the 'weak horse' was totally false. It took us a long time, but America doesn't give up. We will bring justice to those who seek to do us harm. Seeing the photos was very sobering, and I do not take this decision to call for their release lightly. Although there are legitimate views on both sides, on balance, I think that more good is done by releasing a photo than by not."

Bachmann, who also visited CIA headquarters this morning, has not joined the call to release the photos. After seeing the images, the Minnesota Republican said the photos aren't really what matters, tweeting, “While these photos provide certainty of bin Laden’s identity, I also believe the best evidence of bin Laden’s identity is found through the release of the terrorist’s DNA match." Doug Sachtleben, a spokesman for Bachmann, elaborated on her position. "She expressed concern that the photos could incite violence," he told The Wire. "She understands both sides of the issue but her feeling has been that the DNA is the better evidence."

Other members of Congress disagree about how macabre the photos are. "It wasn't really gruesome," said Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, the top-ranking Democrat on the House Select Committee on Intelligence. "There was some blood but his face was not distorted to the point where you couldn’t really determine who he was.” Ruppersberger agreed with the president's decision to withhold the photos telling the Baltimore Sun, "We don't want to inflame people who support bin Laden." Rep. Tom Rooney, a Florida Republican, and Rep. Ben Chandler, a Kentucky Democrat, also viewed the photos today but they did not weigh in on the appropriateness of releasing the images.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.