Paul A. Ibbetson
Bin Laden death photo: Obama breaks from history, America losing spine
By Paul A. Ibbetson
May 10, 2011

It is said that a picture says a thousand words. When it comes to today's politically correct world, presenting some pictures may say even more. President Barack Obama's refusal to submit the death photo of the number one terrorist behind 9/11, Osama bin Laden, is a fundamentally flawed decision full of negative consequences. The President's decision appears to be based on a concern that terrorists around the world will be inflamed to a higher level if bin Laden's death becomes public through pictures. This argument is weak and without supporting evidence. Certainly the idea of withholding potentially inflammatory photos for fear of angering terrorists around the world went out the door years ago with the overwhelming photo coverage of human rights violations at Abu Ghraib. If documenting this portion of American history through photos was deemed reasonable, how can withholding Osama bin Laden's death photo from the American people and history be justified?

The President also seems to believe that releasing bin Laden's death photo is in itself an act of selfish aggression beneath the dignity of the American people, which he has termed "spiking the ball." Someone should walk the president through American history, which is in complete opposition to this line of thinking. Historically, America has consistently used photos to chronicle the history of the deaths of those that have brought terror to this country. This has been a fundamental byproduct of our free speech that is recognized through our Constitution. This freedom to document history through published photos may not be pretty, but it was never feared nor denied to the American people.

In 1892, the infamous outlaws of the Dalton Gang were shot dead by local citizens in Coffeyville, Kansas. The death photos of these outlaws brought to justice were circulated through print worldwide. Documenting the deaths of bandits such as these through published images and photos was commonplace. Almost four decades later Americans would see death photos of gangsters such as John Dillinger to the St. Valentine's Day Massacre in newspapers across the country. Americans recorded the photos of the deaths of fascists like Benito Mussolini during World War II, and decades later monsters like Che Guevara were placed into historical context through the same means.

The idea that a handful of government officials would withhold visual verification of the death of the biggest villain of modern times is only surpassed in outrageousness by the possibility that Americans will stand for it. The Obama administration's purposeful denial of visual verification of this terrorist's dead body needlessly sows the seeds for myth, folklore and conspiracy theories. Does this make America safer? Of course not. This bungling administration is confused about the proper priorities within the war on terror.

Our country's history has not always been beautifully photogenic, but it's been our history and many have given the ultimate sacrifice to safeguard the freedom we have to keep it accurate and truthful. When citizens see pictures of African Americans being hung from ropes along roadsides during the terror of the Ku Klux Klan, it is unsettling to view, but also a true part of our history. Should we remove these photos from public consumption because somewhere someone will be offended? Only cowards and fools would endorse such actions.

President Barack Obama should do the right thing and release the death photo of Osama bin Laden. It is an action rightly done, not for the purpose of blood lust or to celebrate death for death's sake, but to place this part of America's history into an accurate context. Americans can handle the photo as they have been seeing the end results of what happens to those that terrorize Americans since the days of the Daltons. Those that view our publications from around the world can take from it the valuable lesson that America is the land of the free, and free people need not be denied reality for fear of being politically incorrect. The issue of the Osama bin Laden death photo release is now less of an observance of America's stomach or heart, but of the country's spine.

© Paul A. Ibbetson


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Paul A. Ibbetson

Dr. Paul A. Ibbetson is a former Chief of Police of Cherryvale, Kansas, and member of the Montgomery County Drug Task Force. Paul received his Bachelor's and Master's degree in Criminal Justice at Wichita State University, and his PhD. in sociology at Kansas State University. Paul is the author of several books and is also the radio host of the Kansas Broadcasting Association's 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011 award winning, Conscience of Kansas airing across the state. Visit his website at For interviews or questions, please contact


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