Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Mr. President, please do not publish a bin Laden death photo

Dear President Obama:

I congratulate and thank you for finding and eliminating as a threat Osama bin Laden. By all accounts, our troops undertook a variety of actions to establish that the deceased was indeed Osama. By all accounts, the body was handled with respect to, if not in absolute accordance with, the proscribed death and burial rites associated with Islam. To do both of these things so quickly and efficiently is evidence that every aspect of this operation was considered well in advance of its execution. For this, all involved should be commended.

Surely, though, the question of whether or not to publish a photograph of Osama in death must also have been considered. Perhaps the brisk success of the mission and the near-universal acclaim it has received has provided a window of opportunity to reconsider this question? If so, Mr. President, I respectfully implore you not to release any photographic or videographic evidence of Osama's death and burial you may have.

I understand the reasons why the body was disposed of quickly. I understand that no legitimate nation-states would want his remains in their soil. I understand that rogue entities and terror groups ought not be allowed to make him a martyr. I understand the danger and difficulty of bringing his body back to the U.S. or to a U.S. territory. And I understand that burial within 24 hours was what Muslim practice required.

I do not claim to be an expert on Muslim death rituals, but from what I've heard they appear quite similar to Jewish death rituals, in terms of washing and enshrouding the body without embalming or otherwise seeking to preserve or tamper with it. Soon-as-possible burial ensures it will decompose back to the dust of the earth from which it originally sprang. Jewish custom also prohibits viewing the body except by those entrusted with washing and preparing it for burial, a holy act. This is why open-casket wakes and funerals are not part of Jewish tradition. I can only assume it is so for Muslims as well. In death, the body is naked of its soul. To view it is to disrespect it. I'm not saying that Osama, dead or alive, deserves respect, but when a person passes from its mortal state to the unknown, from its place among humanity to the judgment of Divinity, our work is done.

We have seen over the past decade brutal thuggery and cruelty among our enemies in the Middle East. Bodies have been dragged in public and shown on television, Daniel Pearl's beheading was on YouTube. This is what inhuman savages do with their kills. Vlad the Impaler, inspiration for Dracula, put the heads of his victims on stakes leading up to his castle door. We are not trophy hunters. We are not savages. We made a justified kill. It is over.

There are those who doubt the deceased truly is Osama bin Laden. The Taliban, for example, says that America has shown the world no conclusive evidence. To this I say, So what? Who are we to care what the Taliban says? Why should we be concerned about satisfying the Taliban? If they don't believe it, fine. It doesn't change anything. They won't lay down their arms if shown that he really is dead. And if they doubt, then they have no grounds for retaliation. That's a win/win in my book.

The image, we are told, is gruesome. He was shot above his left eye and part of his skull was blown off. We know what this looks like from the JFK Magruder video. It is unsettling to say the least. Showing this image will only engender sympathy and inspire rage among those who wish to do us harm. Among our friends and allies, our own people and especially the 9/11 families, it will only disgust the masses and disennoble the mission. We believe you, Mr. President, and again, we thank you.

But please, do not release the photo.


Jason M. Rubin

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