President Obama was right when he said, in deciding against releasing pictures of Osama bin Laden’s body, that “we don’t trot this stuff out as trophies — that’s not who we are.’’ He’s probably also right that releasing the photos wouldn’t satisfy every conspiracy theorist out there. But he should have released the pictures anyway.
Even in a situation like this one, with a reasonable degree of concern that the bloody photos would rile up some of bin Laden’s followers, the government shouldn’t regard secrecy as its default position: Close calls should go in favor of openness.
If national-security secrets were revealed in the photos, the equation would be different. But that’s not the case with a single image of the terrorist leader’s dead body. In this case, the risk of stirring up Islamist sentiments if the photos are released is probably about equal to that of dire mythogies taking hold in the absence of any photographic evidence. Both are outweighed by the benefit of maintaining a free flow of information. The raid was done in the name of the American people; the American people should be able to see the results.