The photographs of Osama bin Laden’s dead body should be released for public scrutiny. The President’s decision to withhold photographs of Bin Laden’s dead body is only the last in a series of terrible mistakes in the handling of the dead terrorist’s body. Although there should be no doubt that Bin Laden is actually dead, there are grave doubts as to the circumstances surrounding his death. Was he shot in cold blood? Was he standing or lying down when he was shot? Was he shot in the back or in the front? Were his hands raised in surrender? Was he actively resisting?
Many of these doubts could have been resolved if Bin Laden’s body had been subjected to the usual investigatory techniques routinely employed in homicide cases. His body should have been subjected to an autopsy, to forensic testing by an experienced medical examiner, to extensive photographing of entrance and exit wounds, to paraffin testing for gun powder residue, and to other such forensic examination.
Burying his body at sea constituted the willful destruction of relevant evidence, which naturally gives rise to suspicions that there was something to hide. I fully credit the administration’s explanation that the reason for the hasty burial at sea was the desire not to offend religious Muslims and not to create a shrine to a dead mass murderer. I believe that the President acted properly in ordering the targeted assassination of the world’s most culpable and dangerous terrorist and that our armed forces complied with the law in killing Bin Laden. But many reasonable people around the world will wonder whether the decision to destroy the best evidence may also have been based on a desire to suppress the whole truth.
In my nearly half century of representing defendants charged with homicide, I have come to know that the best evidence of how a person died comes from the body of the deceased. Dead bodies often talk more loudly, clearly and unambiguously than live witnesses. Bin Laden’s body should have been preserved as long as necessary to gather all relevant evidence, notwithstanding the requirements of Sharia Law. When a Muslim or a Jew is the victim of a homicide in the United States, religious considerations do not trump civil requirements. Their bodies are generally sent to the medical examiner for thorough examination. Notwithstanding religious prohibitions, autopsies are performed and organs removed for testing. No special exception should have been made for Bin Laden’s body.
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