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Will U.S. release gruesome bin Laden photos?

Assistant to the President of Counterterrorism and Homeland Security John Brennan briefs the press in Vineyard Haven, Mass., while the first family is vacationing on Martha's Vineyard, Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2010. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
John Brennan AP Photo

With questions already surfacing about whether Osama bin Laden is really dead, the Obama administration on Monday hedged when pressed over whether it would release photographic evidence of the body.

"We are less than 24 hours from the arrival on target of those individuals," White House counter-terrorism adviser John Brennan said. "We have released a tremendous amount of information to date. We are going to continue to look at the information that we have and make sure that we're able to share what we can because we want to make sure that not only the American people but the world understand exactly what happened and the confidence that we have that it was conducted in accordance with the mission design."

"At the same time, we don't want to do anything that's going to compromise our ability to be as successful the next time we get one of these guys and take them off the battlefield," he added.

Pressed on whether "releasing a photo or two might avoid conspiracy theories throughout the Muslim world," Brennan responded: "We are going to do everything we can to make sure that nobody has any basis to try to deny that we got Osama bin Laden. And so, therefore, the releasing of information and whether that includes photographs, this is something to be determined."

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Brennan said the debate within the administration is over 1) whether to release anything at all and 2) what to release if visual evidence is indeed released. He also suggested the DNA results used to identify bin Laden's body could be released.

"You have to take a look at it from the standpoint of what are the upsides and downsides," he said. "And sometimes when you conduct an operation that is based on intelligence and is based on the very sensitive and very capable forces that we have available to us in the U.S. government, you want to make sure that you're not doing anything to expose something that will limit your ability to use those same intelligence sources and capabilities in the future."

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Former senior CIA official Michael Scheuer said on CSPAN Wednesday that he believes the administration "will be forced to put out the pictures" in order to head off conspiracy theories. 

Colin Powell, the former secretary of state, said on CNN Monday the administration needs to decide a course of action based on the pictures themselves.

"You have to see the picture to make a judgment whether it's in our interest or not," he said.

Skeptics at home and abroad are already asking for proof that bin Laden has indeed been killed.

"There is not a shred of evidence that Bin Laden has been killed and, of course, the media are not requiring any," one American wrote in an email to CBS News. "...Is it un-patriotic or un-American to ask how, specifically, we know that he's dead?"

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In July 2003, the Pentagon released extremely graphic photographs of Saddam Hussein's two sons, Uday and Qusay, after they had been killed - though they had been touched up by a mortician. The release appeared to be an attempt to convince skeptical Iraqis that the two men were indeed dead.

Any photos of bin Laden are expected to be gruesome in light of the fact that officials say he was shot in the face during the raid on his compound. Though officials say he is easily identifiable post-mortem, the nature of his death suggests that may not be the case - potentially degrading their value as evidence of his death.

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