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4 reasons to release bin Laden photos

By William J. Bennett, CNN Contributor
  • William Bennett says President Obama should have released Osama bin Laden photos
  • Bennett says failure to release them will fuel conspiracy theories
  • He says jihadists shouldn't have a veto over documenting history

Editor's note: William J. Bennett is the Washington fellow of the Claremont Institute. He was U.S. secretary of education from 1985 to 1988 and was director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy under President George H.W. Bush.

(CNN) -- There are several good reasons to release the photographs of Osama bin Laden's body: First, to end the debate in the world of conspiracy theory, one the administration's countervailing story lines have helped fuel.

As Charles Krauthammer recently said, "The Middle East is a place where conspiracies live. This summer there were shark attacks in the Red Sea. The Egyptian press blamed it on the Israelis. You have to show a picture. That was the whole point of the operation: proof of death. Do it now and don't dither."

Second, for a better sense of closure on the bin Laden file. Michael Rubin has argued, "We must make terrorists understand that if they mess with us, they won't get diplomatic legitimacy; rather, they will simply sign their own death sentences."

Third, because not releasing the photos carves out an exception in our history of documenting major world events. We have shown pictures and video of the death of Saddam Hussein, his sons, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and also the pictures and video of terrible horror -- from the Holocaust to Cambodia to the beheadings of our own citizens.

Bin Laden photos won't be released
Bin Laden's final moments
Remembering the fallen

Another view: Obama made the right call

As I've argued for showing more scenes and imagery from September 11, 2001, as well as imagery of various horrific attacks against Americans, it would be an odd disposition to be calling exclusively for scenes of our defeat while suppressing proofs of our victories.

But beyond all this, there has been an argument made that releasing the photographs will endanger Americans and our troops abroad, that it will enflame Islamist rage and inspire revenge killings. This is the most serious objection.

But I think it is worth pointing out there is little we do or can do that does not catalyze such rage. What, after all, was our offense on September 10, 2001?

What inspires jihadist attacks against Americans and non-Islamists are speeches by the pope, cartoons, documentaries, nuns walking down the streets of Africa and almost every other exercise of human and civil rights.

The argument that we should not release the photos in the hope that it will calm violence against innocents is to grant jihadists a veto on our public policy, and it is a veto that can never be satisfied, that will never be powerful enough.

We should not defer our rights and liberties and policies to the threats of madmen, nihilists or fascists.
--William J. Bennett

It is, after all, our very existence that troubles our enemies, not the specifics of our actions -- those serve only as an excuse.

To accept this veto would be to hobble everything a free people should stand for, from the exercise of free speech and religious freedom to the right to walk down the street peaceably. We should not defer our rights and liberties and policies to the threats of madmen, nihilists or fascists. It doesn't work anyway.

In the end, the release of the photographs is not bloodlust, it is not spiking the football in a game between equals, it is instruction -- to the world and for ourselves.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of William J. Bennett.

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