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The FBI's Ten Most Wanted Fugitive is updated with Osama Bin Laden's death. (MCT)
Thursday, May 5, 2011

Ayotte: I saw pic of dead bin Laden

While Sen. Kelly Ayotte of Nashua declared she saw and clearly identified a photograph of a dead Osama bin Laden, a fellow Republican senator from neighboring Massachusetts claims photos he saw were fake.

Ayotte made her statement hours before President Barack Obama announced he would not release photos to the public.

“I do believe the photo should be released,” said Ayotte, a first-term Republican. ‘’We don’t want to see conspiracy theories develop, particularly among the terrorists.”

In a telephone interview, Ayotte said she could not confirm the authenticity of the photo shown to her.

Web images already profess to be of the slain bin Laden.

“That’s another good reason for the White House to control its release,” Ayotte said.

Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., told NECN that photos he earlier disclosed seeing proved not to be authentic.

Brown agrees with Obama’s decision not to release them.

White House officials privately admitted they feared a backlash from victim rights supporters and others convinced that making public a photograph of the slain Al Qaeda leader would bring some closure.

Earlier Wednesday, Ayotte made instant, national news when she confirmed an unnamed senator had shown her a photograph of bin Laden after Navy Seals had shot him to death Sunday.

“I saw a photo of him deceased, the head area. Obviously he had been wounded ... I can’t give any better description than that,” Ayotte told reporters at the Capitol on Wednesday.

Asked if it was clearly bin Laden, Ayotte said, “In my view yes. Obviously I’m not an expert in this area. But ... since he’s such a well-known figure, when you see the picture, it clearly has his features.”

Ayotte’s remarks came soon after CIA Director Leon Panetta privately briefed the Senate Intelligence and Armed Services Committees, though it is unclear whether the picture was circulated at that session.

Other senators who attended the briefing said they had not seen bin Laden photos, and one aide said none was shown.

Ayotte and Brown serve on the Senate Armed Services Committee. A ranking Republican member on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Georgia Sen. Saxy Chambliss, said he too had seen pictures of a dead bin Laden.

“I think the question is, what’s the negative that could come from it?” Chambliss asked Capitol Hill reporters.

“One of these days they’re going to be released; it’s a question of whether it be now on our terms or (let) somebody else do it.”

Chambliss told reporters the photos are “what you would expect from somebody who’s been shot in the head. It’s not pretty.”

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a Democratic member of the Armed Services Committee and subcommittee chairwoman on the Senate Foreign Relations Committeee, would not say if she saw any photographic evidence but stressed after two briefings there’s no doubt the targeted bin Laden was taken down.

“I have been part of two classified briefings with CIA Director Leon Panetta on the topic of Osama bin Laden’s death, and I am entirely satisfied by the information I have received and confident that Osama bin Laden is dead because of the impressive work by our intelligence, diplomatic, and military establishments,” Shaheen said in a statement released to The Telegraph.

Ayotte said the photo’s release would help end wild speculation in the world community about bin Laden’s fate.

“Although some may be upset by the image of someone who has been shot in the head, releasing a photo is important to put to rest any conspiracy theories that may arise around the world and to provide for closure,” Ayotte said.

Shaheen thinks otherwise and supports Obama’s decision to withhold the photographs, said Faryl Ury, Shaheen’s press secretary.

“Sen. Shaheen does not think the photos should be released at this time because of the sensitivity of the situation and the possibility that a photo release could inflame anti-American sentiment around the world and put American troops and citizens at risk,” Ury said.

In a CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll released Tuesday, 56 percent said the government should release a photo while 39 percent said it should not. The poll of 700 adults had a sampling margin of 3.5 percent.

Ayotte’s disclosure caused a stir in media blogs such as one from Fox News talk show host Greta Van Sustern.

“This is getting weird ... Are they passing the bin Laden picture around the Senate?” Van Sustern asked rhetorically.

Clearly there was some dispute in the Obama administration about what course to take.

Panetta said Tuesday that he expected a photograph release was forthcoming.

Yet according to published reports, both Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates opposed the idea.

Obama did get some bipartisan support for his decision from congressional committee leaders from Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., who runs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., who chairs the House Intelligence Committee.

Rogers said in a statement that the release “will only serve to inflame opinion in the Middle East.”

“Osama bin Laden is not a trophy – he is dead, and let’s now focus on continuing the fight until al Qaeda has been eliminated,” Rogers added.

Kevin Landrigan can be reached at 321-7040 or klandrigan@nashuatelegraph.com.