Friday, May 6, 2011

Great to debate

Should President Obama release the photographs of Osama bin Laden's shot-up body? Or the videos of the assault on bin Laden's compound in Pakistan?

It's a great debate to have. The fact that Americans are able to have the debate means that the man behind the murders of thousands of innocents from many nations—not just Americans—is dead.

The rest is just a bunch of legal, policy, political and public-relations details.

Are the photographs public documents? Does the president have a legal right to withhold them? Would release inflame sentiments any more than they've already been inflamed over a decade of conflict with terrorists?

Would they harm relationships with other countries? Would it be worse if the photos are eventually leaked or if fakes that may be worse gain some kind of foothold in world consciousness?

Will withholding the photos unduly fuel conspiracy theories that popped up nearly simultaneously with the announcement of bin Laden's demise? Would releasing them in the age of Photoshop really quell any legitimate concerns? After all, the Internet is full of comments from people who still believe that the American walk on the moon was produced in a movie studio.

These questions and more may become the subject of lawsuits and inevitably will fuel academic inquiry for years to come—students and professors, rejoice.

The debate over the release of the photos of the body of the arch terrorist killed by American special forces is irresolvable as "good" or "bad" or even simply as "necessary." President Obama is damned if he does and damned if he doesn't.

For now, the world should enjoy the space in which the man who was at least today's titular head of al-Qaida, the money and the organizational brains behind reducing the World Trade Towers to rubble, is gone, taking a lot of murderous inspiration with him and giving followers pause.

Bin Laden's death means that in this decade-long contest of good vs. evil, the good guys won one.

Whether the victory will be solely symbolic in the end is unknown, but as symbols go, it's irrefutably strong.

It means that President Obama stayed focused on hunting down and bringing the original architect of terror to justice. It means that this president kept his campaign promise not to flinch in finding and apprehending bin Laden even if he was in Pakistan instead of Afghanistan.

Although the nation's psyche will never be free of the scars of 9/11 or the prospect of other terror attacks in an ever smaller world, bin Laden's demise offers hope that we can end this draining preoccupation with bloodshed and war, and turn our efforts to sustaining peace.

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