The Bin Laden Photos: A Demand For Visual Proof

Update: White House Says It Won't Release Bin Laden Death Photos A neighbor stopped by earlier today and asked me if I believed Bin Laden was dead.

Of course, I said. Yes.

She said: "I don't believe it. I want to see pictures."

Then I went on line and saw this Boston Globe survey that found more than 65 percent of respondents said, "it is critical to see visual evidence of his death" compared to 34.5 percent who preferred no photos, which would likely be "gruesome and offensive."

A survey shows most people want to see the Bin Laden death photos
A survey shows most people want to see the Bin Laden death photos

NPR reports that the U.S. is now considering whether to release the death photos of Bin Laden. They quote John Brennan, the president's top adviser on homeland security, who said the government may indeed go public with the pictures, which show Bin Laden with "a kill shot above his left eye." But, Brennan added: "There is not a question at this point, I think, in anybody's mind that bin Laden is dead."

Well that's clearly not true, if my neighbor is any indication.

A subset of people do need visual proof, and will only feel closure when they get it, says McLean Hospital psychologist Jennifer Taylor, a New Yorker who served as a volunteer providing emotional support to survivors at Ground Zero for several months after the 9/11 attacks. But for others, she said, no amount of physical evidence or visual proof will ever be enough.

"Think of all the people who didn't believe Kennedy was dead," Taylor said. "Its very easy to come up with a conspiracy theory, and for those people, no level of proof would be acceptable. They could have been in the room in Pakistan, and seen him get killed, and they'd still say, "How do I know it was Bin Laden?"

Beyond the conspiracy buffs, Taylor says, the reality of modern life is that "once the government says there are pictures or there's video, people will demand to see it."

And it's not necessarily a sign of deep distrust of government, she says. It's more a yearning for transparency, the feeling that: "if you have it, why can't we see it?"

What do you think? Does the government have an obligation to release the photos? Would it change your feelings about the demise of Bin Laden? Or do we not need any more gruesome images in the news?

This program aired on May 3, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.

Headshot of Rachel Zimmerman

Rachel Zimmerman Reporter
Rachel Zimmerman previously reported on health and the intersection of health and business for WBUR. She is working on a memoir about rebuilding her family after her husband’s suicide. 



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