Should the US share photos of a dead Osama Bin Laden with the public?

On the 11th September 2001 Americans lost 5,000 of their civilian compatriots and saw symbols of their way of life come crashing down. The need to hold up (at best) evidence of or (at worst) a trophy signifying triumph over an enemy that they’ve been hunting down for almost ten years is not only understandable. It is consistent with a tradition of warfare as old as humanity itself (perhaps as old as the hominid genus that our species belong to).

Had Medieval European armies or the Roman Legions not been as bloodthirsty as their Mongol and Hun attackers, perhaps the Dark Ages may have been even darker and longer. If our allies’ “boys” hadn’t been molded into finely-tuned killing machines by years of basic and special training before they were sent off to kill German and Japanese soliders, our world today would have likely been vastly different. If Filipino men straight out of fashion school were sent to the Philippine hinterlands to fight off various rebel armies, we’d probably be a nation ruled today by Joma Sison or named after an ancient Indo-Malay sultanate instead of a Spanish King of the Inquisition.

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Even then, the question remains debatable:

Should the United States Government share photos of a dead Osama Bin Laden with the public?

We seem to have a biological predisposition to find pleasure in the sight of the corpses of our enemies. There is some scientific evidence pointing to clear evolutionary advantages in animals that effect “vengeful” behaviours on their enemies. Nature is an economic system. And as such we see the behaviours we evolve as outcomes of economic pressures — i.e., costs and benefits. Exacting revenge from your enemy is in the cold economic terms of nature “imposing costs on individuals that have imposed costs on you”. These behaviours create a deterrence against other individuals who intend to do you harm. It makes them think twice about doing so — which has some obvious benefits to you, like getting laid at some future time and spawning carriers of your genetic code.


The way revenge seems to operate in our minds today really does have a functional ring to it.

The loudest way to exact revenge is to make a person’s gains less profitable. You have reached into their accounting system and changed what they’ve gained from harming you.

The interesting thing is that the desire for revenge goes up if there are people who have watched you be mistreated, because in that case, the costs have gotten bigger. If you don’t take revenge, there’s a chance that people will learn that you are the type of person who will put up with mistreatment. That is the kind of phenomenon that you would expect if there is a functional logic underlying the system that produces revenge. This is a well-tuned system that’s highly specific in what it cares about and the kinds of responses that it generates.

Wars fought in the past were always and in most cases necessarily brutal. Victorious armies would slaughter the remaining civilians of the villages and cities they’ve sacked, rape their enemy soldiers’ women, mount the heads of their slain foes high on stakes, and kill every male child they could find lest they grow up to be their future killers. Then they’d go and enslave every other person who does not fit these categories.

Quite understandable, considering that even victorious armies will have gained said victory at enormous cost themselves — in lives and state resources. So it is in their interest to send a strong message that antagonising them quite simply does not pay.

Still, the new political correctness of the affluent world have in principle shed the more reptilian aspects of their respective martial traditions. The advanced weapon systems and tactics of the West and Northeast Asia are now designed for “surgical strikes” that allow goal specificity and execution with “minimal civilian casualty”. Indeed, the assault on Bin Laden’s hideout in Pakistan was one fine specimen of execution along the lines of such modern military doctrines.

In short, the cost of victory of the armies of the “free” and affluent democratic world had gone down drammatically over the last hundred years while the cost of victory of the “axis” — such as today’s terrorists of various schools of thought (not just Islamic) — have remained pretty much the same over the last thousand-odd years.

By no means does all this information make answering the question of whether or not photos of the Bin Laden stiff should be published (whether as “evidence” or as a trophy) any easier. But it provides some context to frame any pompous or self-righteous posturing on the matter coming from a people who lack the slightest trace of a martial tradition in their cultural DNA, possess not a single military victory as an organised state or kingdom in their history, and hardly exhibit any capacity to win should a conflict requiring state-sanctioned deadly force erupt in the foreseeable future.

12 Replies to “Should the US share photos of a dead Osama Bin Laden with the public?”

    1. They already updated his FBI Most Wanted List entry.

      As it turns out, Obama decided the photos will not be made public, which I think is a good idea. No sense pouring gas on the fire.

    2. Yup, it’s all for the best I suppose. Considering one of the options for attacking the compound was an aerial bombardment (which wouldn’t have given anyone positive kill verification), Obama’s word should be good as gold.

  1. Actually, I think they captured him alive and now have him in Roswell New Mexico and are pulling his toenails out very very slowly, behind the grassy knoll there . . .

      1. Yeah, did you see the tail of the one that got wrecked? What the hell was that thing? Seems the US military still has some toys nobody knows about.

  2. “Should the US share photos of a dead Osama Bin Laden with the public?”

    The question requires just a plain yes or no answer.

    Well, why not?

    Because it will upset the muslims?

    Jeez, give me a break.

    1. Well, evil or not, he’s still a corpse and there should be a good reason to subject him to public ogling. Particularly since it was apparently pretty gross, with half his skull blown off. I think if there had not been fairly quick acknowledgment of his death from the other Al-Qaeda and related outfits, then sure, let’s have the proof. But they copped to it, so problem solved.

      It compares well with the death of that Tamil leader some time ago (don’t even ask me to try to spell his name). The other Tamil sympathizers tried to quell the news he was dead, so the Sri Lankan army came up with the pictures. End of story.

  3. Video recorded clips would be a good proof. Though I am not sure if the Navy Seals were equipped with cams on their head gear.

    The press can edit the gruesome parts though it would be hopeful that Bin Laden was not gunned down less than a second.

  4. I don’t think, that releasing the gruesome photo of a misguided religious leader of the Islamic Al Queda, will do any good. The Al Queda knows that Usama Bin Laden; their leader is killed already. His wives, were with him. Including his children. They are now, in Pakistani hands.
    We are Human Beings…we are not Beasts, like these Jihadists are: who exhibit on TV beheadings of innocent people. Then shout: ” God is Great”…what has God has to to with their animalistic behaviors of beheading innocent prople?

    1. What has God, has To Do with their animalistic behaviors of beheading and mass killings of innocent people?
      This is when Religion is used as a twisted means, by misguided people, who wants power…I’m not against Religions. However, when you use Religion, as a means to an end; and not for Spiritual Development of People…this is where I’m against it…

  5. Having outgrown fear of bad people, seeing another fallen bad guy as a Muslim wouldn’t do as shackle me like them radicals, but true, it can happen that radicals might just capitalize on such images gory as it just might be similar to strewn guts and entrails of suicide bombers and lots of their hapless victims mostly innocent people. If you ask me, show the ugly pic anyway so that bad people can sample for themselves how gory things can be creating undue havoc to innocent places and people!

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