Osama bin Laden was a lot of things to a lot of people. To most people in the United States, he was a terrorist and a coward (except to the conspiracy theorists, who believe he was a scapegoat.) To Al Qaeda forces in the Middle East, he was a visionary and a figurehead. With public opinion ranging from one extreme to the other, it was clear that no matter how bin Laden was buried, or by whom, it was going to be controversial to somebody.
Shortly after the mission that closed the chapter on Osama bin Laden, President Barack Obama announced that the White House would not release grisly photos of bin Laden’s body to the public, nor would they release footage of his burial at sea. In President Obama’s words, “we don’t trot out this stuff as trophies.” I agree with that logic; we’re dealing with an enemy that is ideologically motivated and gravely committed to its cause; showboating after a major victory would certainly not help our soldiers who are facing that same enemy.
Of course the decision was met with criticism, mostly from Republicans. (No surprise there: Republicans would probably declare their undying hatred for oxygen if President Obama said he was in favor of it.) It’s hard to tell if this meme is the work of a Republican nay-sayer who wants to take points out of President Obama’s column, or some conspiracy nutjob who thinks everything the government does, says, and thinks is a lie, but the message is plain: the meme implies that there’s something fishy surrounding the death and burial of Osama bin Laden.
The sad thing is that conspiracy theorists are utterly unconvincible, except of their own infallibility. Let’s suppose the Obama administration had published the photos and videos. Let’s say they released a death report, DNA test results, and the sworn affidavits of eighty people who personally knew that bin Laden was living in the compound attacked by Seal Team Six. And what if the administration, in a grossly inappropriate display, mounted the head of bin Laden himself on a pike in the White House’s front lawn? Would that silence the conspiracy nuts?
Of course not! In this age of digital manipulation and technological wizardry, anything and everything can be faked! The conspiracy theorists would set out to analyze every pixel, every grain, every detail – specifically looking for the flaws that would “prove” what they already believe. To a conspiracy theorist, anything he doesn’t understand in incredible detail is evidence of shenanigans. And since conspiracy theorists seldom understand much about anything, there’s a lot of shenanigans about.
President Obama, who apparently has some prior experience dealing with conspiracy theorists, wisely avoided trying to appease them. This was the only appropriate call. As for the conspiracy nuts, they need a few lessons in evaluating evidence. There’s no compelling reason to disbelieve that bin Laden was killed on the second day of May, 2011, in Abbottabad, Pakistan, unless you’re already committed to a conspiratorial narrative and forbidden by pride to disavow it.