Obama decides against bin Laden photos release: “We don’t trot out this stuff as trophies”

Laura Rozen

After consulting with his national security team, President Barack Obama has decided against the release of photos of Osama bin Laden's dead body.

"It is important for us to make sure that very graphic photos of somebody who was shot in the head are not floating around as a incitement to violence or propaganda tools," Obama told "60 Minutes" correspondent Steve Kroft, in an interview set to air Sunday. Part of the interview also aired tonight on "CBS News with Katie Couric" and can also be seen above. In addition, the network has released an excerpted transcript:

STEVE KROFT: Did you see the pictures?


STEVE KROFT: What was your reaction when you saw them?


STEVE KROFT: Why haven't you released them?

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: You know, we discussed this internally.  Keep in mind that we are absolutely certain this was him.  We've done DNA sampling and testing.  And so there is no doubt that we killed Osama bin Laden.

It is important for us 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.  As a propaganda tool. You know, that's not who we are.  You know, we don't trot out this stuff as trophies.  You know, the fact of the matter is this was somebody who was deserving of the justice that he received.  And I think Americans and people around the world are glad that he's gone.

"The fact is, you will not see bin Laden walking on this earth again," Obama also said.

CIA Director Leon Panetta, no doubt riding high after his agency's significant victory in its ten year effort to nab bin Laden, told NBC News yesterday that he expected the pictures--which are reportedly quite gruesome--would eventually be released, my colleague Zachary Roth reported.

But according to White House spokesman Jay Carney, speaking at the White House press conference today, other presidential advisers, including Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, weighed in against the release, concerned the photos could inflame anti-American sentiment that could threaten the security of U.S. military and civilian personnel stationed overseas as well as private citizens.

The president "discussed it with Bob Gates, Hillary Clinton and the intelligence teams and they all agree," Carney said, notably not naming Panetta specifically. "The truth is, that we are monitoring worldwide reaction, and there is no doubt that Osama bin Laden is dead. There is no doubt among al Qaeda members he is dead."

Carney said Obama had made the final decision this morning. Obama had an unusually long part of his schedule today blocked off for a meeting with his national security team, from 10:30 a.m. until 3 p.m., according to his public schedule.

CIA Director Leon Panetta--who Obama nominated last week to become Secretary of Defense when sitting Secretary Robert Gates steps down next month--briefed House and Senate members on the details of the operation that killed bin Laden yesterday afternoon. While several lawmakers had argued that releasing photos is necessary to convince people around the world the al Qaeda mastermind is truly dead, others weighed in against making the images public.

"The risks of release outweigh the benefits," said Michigan GOP Rep. Mike Rogers, who chairs the House Intelligence committee, Roth writes. "Conspiracy theorists around the world will just claim the photos are doctored anyway, and there is a real risk that releasing the photos will only serve to inflame public opinion in the Middle East."

The Guardian and Reuters have since published photos of three other men allegedly killed in the U.S. raid on bin Laden's Pakistani compound, which Reuters said were sold to it by a Pakistani security official who entered the compound after the raid. One of the photos appears to be of bin Laden's son. Two other photographs appear to be of the two brothers who U.S. officials said had been living at the compound with the bin Laden family, including a Kuwaiti-born Pakistani man that U.S. officials have described as a bin Laden courier who used the nom de guerre Abu Ahmad al-Kuwaiti.

(Video of President Barack Obama's interview with 60 Minutes, courtesy of CBS/60 Minutes.)