Ya'll know me. I'm usually the raging advocate for liberal causes. But every now and then, an issue arises that puts me in the opposite camp from my progressive friends: I vociferously disagree with the president's decision not to release the Osama bin Laden death photo, and I uncomfortably find myself on the same side as Alan Dershowitz, Sarah Palin, and a mess of right-wing Republicans.
Conspiracy theories began to sprout the moment bin Laden's death was announced. CIA director Leon Panetta initially announced that "ultimately, a [proof of death] photograph would be presented to the public," but someone quickly yanked his leash. The government needs to post the photo soon, not for the prurient pleasure of revenge seekers or lovers of gore but to send a message to jihadists, active or potential, that if you attack the United States, this is the fate that awaits you.
Already, the Pakistani residents of Abbottabad are denying that the terror kingpin was ever among them. Even though al-Qaeda acknowledged bin Laden was killed, there are thousands of people who believe that Elvis faked his own death to escape the limelight and lives in Michigan. Hell, there are people who still think Hitler survived WWII and is spending his dotage in Paraguay. And Mr. President, 33 percent of Republicans think you're a foreigner, and 20 percent believe you're a Muslim. Why would you think they would take your word for it about bin Laden? These are the same people who believe John F. Kennedy was kept on life support at Bethesda Naval Hospital after his brain went missing.
Speaking of JFK, is there anyone who has not yet seen the Zapruder film? If I can take watching President Kennedy getting his brains blown out, I can stand a photo of bin Laden with a hole in his head. Yet, the president remains cautious so as not to further inflame homicidal zealots who hate and want to kill us anyway. These are the savages who beheaded journalist Daniel Pearl and posted it on the Internet. When the military caught up with the assassin, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Bush posse blew up the photo of his dead ass, poster-size, for the world to see, and there was one less delusional killer making snuff videos in Iraq. We have lived with the horror of al-Qaeda for 20 years and three presidents now. Show them the photo and give them a taste, and if some naughty people want to make computer games and YouTube videos of the graphic image of a dead bin Laden, oh well. Freedom of the press gets messy sometimes. Were the decision mine, I'd drop copies of the photo from a helicopter over the Pakistanis who harbored him and send a special 8x10 glossy to Ayman al-Zawahiri with the phrase "Sic Semper Tyrannis" engraved underneath.
The U.S. navy granted bin Laden more respect in death than he gave to his thousands of victims, but the burial at sea better have been videotaped. When the fascists were defeated in Italy, they hanged Mussolini and his wife upside down in a town square. When Nicolae Ceausescu lost his job as Butcher of Romania, the photo of his bloody corpse finally gave surcease to his suffering subjects. The president claims publishing a dead bin Laden picture will cause an "incitement to violence." Is he kidding? The Shia and Sunni in Iraq are killing each other for sport. If it's our troops Obama is concerned about, go ahead and bring them home. The drone strikes are effective, and, despite their vow to avenge the death of bin Laden, al-Qaeda's collective sphincter just tightened several notches. The president says he doesn't want to give the terrorists an iconic image to exploit, but he's a bit late for that. Think of bin Laden, and the turbaned image is already imprinted in your mind. The Bolivian army was forced to publish pictures of the bullet-riddled body of Che Guevara to prove that he was dead, but that's not the iconic image people wear on their T-shirts.
I was once a turn-the-other-cheek pacifist until age and experience convinced me that some people are so obtuse, the only way to get your point across is with a smack upside the head. My Georgia in-laws will forgive me for referencing General William Tecumseh Sherman's quote: "Make war so terrible [and] make them so sick of war that generations would pass away before they would again appeal to it." President Truman followed the Sherman example to end the war against Japan. Despite the horror of war, no amount of diplomacy will dissuade a generation raised on the glory of the mujahideen from ceasing their hostilities against the West. The U.S. created and armed this monster to fight the Russians during the Reagan era. It's only fitting that our soldiers should also destroy them and their charismatic leader. Thanks to the fresh efficiency of the CIA and military, al-Qaeda has been reduced to a bunch of bitter, womenless men riding dirt bikes and playing guerrilla in the mountains of the Hindu Kush. Motor scooters can't cross an ocean. Unquestionably, some deranged individuals will try to commit some new atrocity on U.S. soil, but the threat of bin Laden's al-Qaeda is essentially over. We have their Rolodex. Since the "Arab Spring" is sweeping the Middle East, the U.S. has an opportunity to embrace a new generation, disenchanted with despots and jihad that offer only death and despair.
Nip these conspiracies in the bud by publishing the post-mortem photograph. Even then, some will still believe it never happened, just as others won't accept Obama's birth certificate. If this drags on, Donald Trump will insist on seeing a death certificate. Hawkish GOP legislators are suddenly questioning the legality of the killing, and the sloppy way the administration rolled out the narrative only aided their cause. They raised the questions: Did bin Laden hide behind his 18-year-old wife? Was he holding something or reaching for a weapon? Personally, I don't care if he had the remote control in his hand — good shot, guys.
Maybe I've lived in Memphis so long a bit of redneck has rubbed off on me, but I've come to agree with my Texas cousins: "Some people just need killin'." After the destruction of American embassies in Africa, the USS Cole, the Twin Towers, and the Pentagon, plus acts of terror in London, Madrid, Mumbai, and Indonesia, no one had it coming more than bin Laden. F**k him. Post the head shot. I trust and believe President Obama, but if my position is conservative, I may as well quote Ronald Reagan, who once said, "Trust, but verify."
Randy Haspel writes the Born-Again Hippies blog, where a version of this column first appeared.