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Claim

No photographs of the body of Osama bin Laden have been published0.

Background

The claim is made by professor emeritus Niels Harrit on the Danish radio show “Wiretapped” on September 8th, 20120.

The claim is used to support the conspiracy theory that Osama bin Laden was not behind the terror attack on September 11, 2001. Instead, it is claimed that Osama bin Laden died at an earlier time, in December 2001, which means that he could not have been killed by U.S. special forces on May 2nd, 2011.

Facts

The claim is, as such, true: No photographs of Osama bin Laden’s body have been published. The reason is that his body was buried at sea from the U.S.S. Carl Vinson after navy special forces, Navy SEALs, had killed him at his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, on May 2nd, 20011. The decision was made not to publish any photographs of the body.

The reason given by President Barack Obama during an interview on CBS was a wish not to stir up unrest among certain parts of Muslims as well as the realization that publication would not prevent conspiracy theories from emerging anyway2. During the war in Iraq where Saddam Hussein was deposed, his two sons, Uday and Qusay, were killed during fierce fighting near the city of Mosul. The photographs of the bodies were made public to convince the Iraqi people that they were dead. Unfortunately, the publication spawned not only conspiracy theories that the bodies were not of the sons of Saddam Hussein3 but also caused unrest and anger among the population4.

Acceptance by authorities

The fact that no photographs have been publicized does not mean that no photographs exist. A number of high ranking politicians and military staff in the United States have been shown material, including photographs, concerning the killing of Osama bin Laden. Among these are Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, Senator James Inhofe, and Senator Bill Nelson4.

Logic

A number of conspiracy theories deal with the death of celebrities: U.S. President John F. Kennedy5, his assassin Lee Harvey Oswald5, the British Princess Diana6, the actress Marilyn Monroe7, pop musician Michael Jackson8, and Adolf Hitler9 all have conspiracy theories circulating concerning their deaths.

It is not customary to publicize photographs of dead people out of concern for the relatives and because the dead should not be made a spectacle of.

There are some cases where photographs of dead celebrities have emerged. It is possible to find the gruesome photographs of John F. Kennedy on the Internet as well as those of Marilyn Monroe and Princess Diana. The emergence of such photos are usually not done via official channels but via leaks to the tabloid press.

A more recent example of a conspiracy theory related death is the U.S. astronaut and first man on the Moon Neil Armstrong10. He died on August 25th, 2012 and was buried at sea on September 14th the same year. If the lack of publicized photographs of Osama bin Laden supports the conspiracy theory that it was not Osama bin laden who was behind the terror attack on September 11, 2001, one must also accept the lack of publicized photographs of Neil Armstrong’s dead body as supporting the conspiracy theory that the moon landings were a hoax11.

It should be noted that the vast majority of people do not equate lack of photos of dead celebrities with the idea that there has to be something fishy about their deaths.

The public hasn’t seen recognizable photographs of a single of the 77 victims of the Norwegian mass-murderer Anders Behring Breivik12. If the same line of reasoning should be followed, as the one Niels Harrit uses with Osama bin Laden, it must mean that the victims of Utøya and Oslo do not exist at all, and that Anders Bering Breivik is innocent and should be released from jail immediately.

Ironically, the Truth Movement accepts that the number of victims of the terror attack on September 11, 2001 is true despite the fact that photographs of all the victims have been publicized.

If the photographs of Osama bin Laden were a hoax, it would mean that, among others, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Senator James Inhofe, and Senator Bill Nelson all were implicated in a coverup, and thus guilty of mass murder on U.S. citizens.

Would photographs suffice?

Nothing suggests that photographic evidence will convince conspiracy theorists. Despite that authorities have released a few photographs of some of the victims of the terror attack on September 11, 2001, these gruesome photographs have not made conspiracy theorists accept that it was 19 terrorists from al Qaeda who were behind the attack.

Additionally, identification from photographs alone would be something of a challenge. Niels Harrit claims that Osama bin Laden died in mid-December, 200113 after suffering from kidney disease. If Osama bin Laden, according to Niels Harrit, has not been seen since then, photographs of a dead, possibly disfigured, Osama bin Laden would be very difficult to compare to a person last seen 10 years earlier. If Niels Harrit was presented with photographs of a dead disfigured Osama bin Laden, Niels Harrit would probably not be able to identify him anyway.

Furthermore, publication of photographs would not be evidence that they were taken shortly before release. The photographs could just as well have been taken at any time before release, e.g. on the day that Osama bin Laden, according to Niels Harrit, should have been buried.

Thus, there is no reason to assume that Niels Harrit could accept photographic evidence of the body of Osama bin Laden.

Distrust or not?

The Truth Movement and Niels Harrit have made fundamental distrust of the U.S. authorities a pivotal point when criticizing the official account of September 11th. So far, they have not trusted what the Americans have released so why do it in this case?

Niels Harrit has often pointed to September 11th as the biggest event in our time14. But if September 11th is such a unique event, the non-release of photographs of Osama bin Laden’s body cannot be called unusual. On the contrary, it creates a precedent for future events like it.

Niels Harrit is, with his claim, demanding evidence he is forced to reject.

The risk of the coverup being exposed increases with the number of people in the know, especially when politicians are involved. Politicians are prone to, legitimately, use their knowledge against others if they think it benefits their own political agenda. Politicians and journalists are, so to speak, the last ones you want to share secrets with.

Conclusion

The claim is therefore:

  • Misleading
  • Not determining whether Osama bin Laden is dead or not
  • Illogical
  • Self-contradicting

Sources

  1. Niels Harrit, Aflyttet, Radio 24 syv
  2. Death of Osama bin Laden, Wikipedia
  3. Barack Obama, CBS 60 Minutes
  4. New Conspiracy Theory in Egypt: It Wasn’t Saddam But His Double Who Was Executed, Middle East Media Research Institute
  5. Members of Congress see bin Laden photos, CNN
  6. John F. Kennedy assassination conspiracy theories, Wikipedia
  7. Death of Diana, Princess of Wales conspiracy theories, Wikipedia
  8. Death of Marilyn Monroe, Wikipedia
  9. Death of Michael Jackson, Wikipedia
  10. Death of Adolf Hitler, Wikipedia
  11. Neil Armstrong, Wikipedia
  12. Moon Landing Conspiracies, Wikipedia
  13. Anders Behring Breivik, Wikipedia
  14. Niels Harrit, Aflyttet, Radio 24 syv
  15. Niels Harrit, Aflyttet, Radio 24 syv

Q & A