May 05, 2011
By Lee Cary
President Obama, who aims to avoid offending the Arab Street by withholding the photo of a dead Osama bin Laden, seems to care little about offending the American Street.
Here's how Obama explains concealing the photo in question:
It is important to make sure that very graphic photos of somebody who was shot in the head are not floating around as an incitement to additional violence or as a propaganda tool...We don't trot out this stuff as trophies...The fact of the matter is, this is somebody who was deserving of the justice that he received...We don't need to spike the football... given the graphic nature of these photos it would create a national security risk.
In the meantime, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) says we don't need to see the photos. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary concur. House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) has no opinion, one way or the other. There's leadership for you.
The meta-message here is that we who walk the American Street are children, to be lectured by our all-knowing parents, told that, "You kids don't need to see this. It's only for us adults. It's too gruesome, and it'll make the people who liked the dead man mad at us for what we've done to him." This is told to Americans who are deluged daily by Hollywood, TV News, and videogame images of graphic gruesomeness.
Follow that logic, and TV news outlets, at the insistence of the Bush administration, should have censored the photos and films of the Twin Towers falling down. Blackened out those small, horrific images of people jumping off the top of burning buildings. And secured a court injunction to prohibit the New York Times, always sensitive of the American Street, from distributing photos of mortally wounded US soldiers. No problems with those pictures -- no danger of offending the Arab Street there.
Our President tells us that showing a photograph of OBL at room temperature with a serious head wound would represent a "national security risk" because it might make people who already hate us, hate us even more. How's that for an absurd non sequitur?
Looking back, it was a big risk to execute the Doolittle Raid on Japan a few months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. They were obviously already mad at us, and bombing Tokyo was certain to make them even madder. Risky business, that was.
Looking back at the end of World War II, we were wrong to march German civilians -- who, of course, knew nothing about the extermination camps just outside their city limits -- through the carnage and make them police up the shrunken cadavers. That was insensitive of us.
And what's with all that theatre when relatives of dead crime victims get to speak to the convicted murderer before the judge passes sentence, sometimes leading to an electrocution where family members can, if they choose, watch the face of justice happen?
But didn't the people of Romania, oppressed for 24 years by the dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, deserve to see what Nicolae's face looked like after the justice brought to him by a firing squad on Christmas Day 1989? The Romanians were entitled to see that face of justice. Not that it would make up for all the pain he brought upon them. What they needed to see was that that particular pain was finally over.
And that's what some among the ruling class, representing both major political parties inside the Beltway, just...don't...get. Mostly, because they don't live on the American Street. They seem to think that the Osama Phenomenon that is part of the War on Islamic terrorists -- is it okay to call them that today? -- was only experienced by two of the three branches of government. The third branch remaining inscrutably detached.
Releasing the photo isn't about the sophomorically ridiculous metaphor that the President used about spiking a football. (You suppose there were any fist bumps in the White House situation room? High fives? "Yes we did" chants?)
Apparently the Beltway people think, that we think, that war is a blood sport like politics. Most of the civilians among them have never seen war. Some on the American Street, who've seen soldiers and civilians with fatal head wounds, understand that anyone who likens an appropriate response to killing, even a very bad actor like OBL, to spiking a football just doesn't fathom what it means to see the face of justice on a dead Osama bin Laden.
There's no promise for personal satisfaction in the withheld photo. No exaltation in the gruesome carnage. No voyeuristic delight in death. None of that represents any desire of the collective American Street.
Why the photo should be released has absolutely nothing to do, at its purist application, with trotting out trophies -- whatever that means. For Obama and other Beltway luminaries to suggest that it does, says much about how little they know the people they profess to serve.
For over a decade, the American Street has been after bin Laden in search of justice, not for us individually, but for the nation, led by those who died on September 11, 2001, but also including all the other people murdered by his followers, including many from the Arab Street.
The search for bin Laden was a decade's long quest for justice led by men and women of the US military who volunteered to oppose the tyranny in the Middle East that he represented, leaving family and civilian careers behind to look for the face of justice. It's an even longer ordeal for the families of those who've died in the fight, or from the consequences of having invested their wounded souls in it. It's not over yet.
The president says it's a national security risk to release the photo. He's as dead wrong as bin Laden is dead. For the greater risk to national security is in not displaying, for all to see, the Look of Justice on the face of what was Osama bin Laden. Americans have earned the right to look at the Face of Justice.