Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Bin Laden: Death of the body and the image | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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In 2003, we saw the images taken of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed during his arrest in Pakistani; in these images the mastermind behind the September 11 attacks appeared disheveled and disorientated. When Saddam Hussein was arrested, the US army published the famous image of the Iraqi dictator, wearing dirty clothes and sporting an unkempt beard, looking helpless surrounded by American soldiers who searched, and at times, insulted him. A few months later Uday and Qusay Hussein were killed, and the US army published photographs of their dead bodies to confirm their death. However despite the attempts to conceal the gory nature of the images, the US was still criticized for releasing these images. The aim of releasing the images mentioned above was to confirm the news of the arrest of Saddam Hussein and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and the killing of Saddam Hussein’s two sons. The same applies to the publication of images of the corpse of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, after he was killed in a US air raid in Iraq.

Publishing photos such as this aims to convey a clear message, namely: the enemy has been killed at the hands of American soldiers.

The purpose of publishing these images was to confirm and prove what happened, but these resulted in a setback in the image of the US administration, which appeared vengeful and indifferent about the sanctity of death or to the desire for justice.

Today, the course of events has changed dramatically.

With Twitter and Facebook, both sponsoring the recent Arab revolutions, any images of the dead body of Al Qaeda chief Osama Bin Laden could easily spread like wildfire, and nobody can tell how these images will be used of viewed, and who will the public opinion battle.

The US administration declined to publish images of the dead body of Osama Bin Laden, and the photos later published on Pakistani television and the internet were proven to be fakes. However the US did publish images of the Abbottabad residential compound where Bin Laden was living. Away from the media, a brief Islamic service was held for Bin Laden before his body was buried at sea; in a move that the US said was to ensure that Bin Laden’s grave did not become a shrine. This seems to be a different media approach by the current US administration, which seems to have learnt the lessons from the mistakes made by previous US administrations with regards to mismanaging situations such as this.

Today, we are now left with a torrent of old images of Bin Laden, which show him as an iconic figure, before he failed and become a mere symbol with no role. In its management of the US military operation that resulted in Osama Bin Laden’s death, the Obama administration has been extremely cautious with regards to releasing imagery and photos, indeed only releasing a few photos of Barack Obama and his team in the operations room.

The death of Bin Laden will not be over unless we see images of his body. The US administration is in possession of the images, and concealing them will not serve any cause, whilst publishing them will not serve to increase or improve Bin Laden’s image. The footage of Saddam Hussein’s execution showed how this took place in an atmosphere of vengeance, but still this had no impact on the ground.

Bin Laden was killed and whether any images of his corpse are published or not, this will not bring him back to life.