U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Tequesta, spent about 20 minutes this morning viewing photos of Osama bin Laden’s dead body.
“They’re pretty graphic. He’s definitely dead,” said Rooney, who also called the images “extremely gory.”
President Obama has decided not to release the death photos to the general public. But Rooney and other members of the House and Senate Intelligence and Armed Services committees were invited to view the images at CIA headquarters in Langley, Va.
Sen. Bill Nelson planned to view the photos today while Sen. Marco Rubio declined the invitation. Both are Senate Intelligence Committee members. U.S. Rep. Allen West, R-Plantation, a House Armed Services Committee member, also declined.
Rooney said that he and the ranking minority member of the Intelligence Committee, U.S. Rep. C.A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger, D-Md., were escorted to a windowless conference room this morning at CIA headquarters.
Two CIA analysts were in the room to answer questions about the 8×10 color photos, which Rooney said were in plastic sleeves in a three-ring binder.
The analysts walked the congressmen through five points of facial-recognition technology to establish that the dead body was bin Laden’s. But Rooney said the corpse was instantly recognizable as belonging to the notorious Islamist terrorist.
The first pictures showed different angles of a bloody bin Laden on the floor of the room where he was killed by Navy SEALS in the May 1 raid in the Pakistani town of Abbottabad.
“You can definitely see his brain. It’s pretty gory,” Rooney said.
“As a prosecutor, I got used to seeing some stuff like this. But this…”
Rooney didn’t complete the sentence. He was an attorney in the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General’s Corps at Fort Hood in Texas.
Seeing the photos today, Rooney said, “My first reaction was, he sort of looked pathetic….
“You’re so afraid of this guy, and he seems larger than life, and you’ll never get him. Then when we get him, the surroundings he’s in, he’s not so untouchable,” Rooney said. “Any mythology that this guy took on from being elusive for all those years all came crashing down.”
Covered in blood and brain matter on a bedroom floor, bin Laden looked “very human, very vulnerable and very dead,” Rooney said.
Rooney said other photos showed bin Laden’s body being cleaned and a final shot showed him shrouded in a white sheet on the edge of the deck of the U.S.S. Carl Vinson before being dumped into the North Arabian Sea.
Rooney called the sea burial “a great move by the president” because it deprives bin Laden’s followers of a shrine.
But Rooney said he thought the effort to give bin Laden a proper Muslim burial within 24 hours of his death was “over-the-top…We literally just blew the guy’s head off and we’re worried about whether we’re adhering to sensitive tradition?”
Rooney said he supports the president’s decision not to make the photos public — at least for now.
“I’ve wrestled personally with whether or not we should release them,” Rooney said. He concluded that doing so immediately could endanger U.S. troops. But he says the pictures should “eventually” be released.
“I would say let’s have a cooling-off period before that happens,” Rooney said. He said he wasn’t sure how long such a period should last, but said “there’s going to be a time and place to release them.”
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