WASHINGTON — President Obama said Wednesday that the U.S. will not release photos of Osama bin Laden's corpse, saying it would amount to gloating that would only inflame anti-American sentiment and do nothing to satisfy skeptics.
"That's not who we are. We don't trot out this stuff as trophies," he told CBS in an interview.
"It is important for us to make sure that very graphic photos of somebody who was shot in the head are not floating around as an incitement to additional violence or as a propaganda tool."
Moreover, he said, releasing the photos would appear as gloating, suggesting that while that would be emotionally satisfying, it would be un-American. "We don't need to spike the football," he said.
Obama will travel to New York today, meeting privately with some of the families of bin Laden's victims in the 2001 terrorist attacks and laying a wreath at the site of the World Trade Center. The White House invited former President George W. Bush to appear with Obama in New York, but he declined.
Obama will be able to say that with the death of bin Laden, the United States has caught or killed almost everyone allegedly responsible for the carnage.
White House officials said Wednesday that other evidence of bin Laden's death might be released eventually. That could possibly include Navy records of the sea burial and records of the DNA analysis and facial-recognition analysis that U.S. officials say confirmed that it was bin Laden who was killed in Monday's raid.
But Obama and his administration insisted they would never release photos or videos of bin Laden's corpse, or of the Muslim burial service conducted aboard the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson before the body was dropped into the North Arabian Sea.
The lack of hard evidence released to the public has fed a debate over whether the U.S. needs to prove that its Navy SEALs did, in fact, kill bin Laden.
In Congress, several lawmakers said they saw no need to release the photos or videos.
"There's ample proof that this was Osama bin Laden," said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. "The DNA is conclusive," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., though, said it was a mistake to keep the photos secret.
"The whole purpose of sending our soldiers into the compound, rather than an aerial bombardment, was to obtain indisputable proof of bin Laden's death," he said. "I'm afraid the decision made today by President Obama will unnecessarily prolong this debate."
Obama said he listened to arguments on both sides, then decided Wednesday.
"Keep in mind that we are absolutely certain that this was him. We've done DNA sampling and testing. And so there is no doubt that we killed Osama bin Laden," he said.
Obama said that there's "no doubt among al-Qaida members that he is dead," and that photos would never convince nonbelievers anyway.
"We don't think that a photograph, in and of itself, is going to make any difference. There are going to be some folks who deny it. The fact of the matter is, you will not see bin Laden walking on this Earth again."
Going after the rest
Now U.S. authorities will aim to capture the last major figure involved in the attacks who remains free, Ayman al- Zawahiri, al-Qaida's No. 2 leader. Information on computers and other items taken from the compound where bin Laden was hiding, combined with questioning of current detainees, may help lead them to Zawahiri and new al-Qaida leaders.
"We have vowed, rightfully so, to track down the people responsible for 9/11," said James Lindsay, director of studies at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. "People like Zawahiri are potentially more dangerous in operational terms than bin Laden. He's often referred to as the brains behind al-Qaida."
The U.S. is holding seven alleged conspirators in the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon at the military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Two others were killed in Afghanistan in 2001, according to GlobalSecurity.org, a research group in Alexandria, Va. In addition to Zawahiri, two other alleged conspirators identified by the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, also known as the 9/11 Commission, remain at large.
Zawahiri, an Egyptian surgeon who distributes video messages to bring followers into his radical interpretation of Islam that legitimizes suicide bombers, is believed to be hiding in southwest Pakistan or Afghanistan. The U.S. government is offering a $25 million reward for information leading to his apprehension or conviction.
Zawahiri was indicted before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks for the August 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya that killed 224 people.
He's listed as one of the Most Wanted Terrorists by the FBI, which doesn't have information about his height, weight or build.