CNN cited a senior US official as saying three sets of photographs of bin Laden's body exist: Photos taken at a hangar in Afghanistan, described as the most recognizable and gruesome; photos taken from the burial at sea on the USS Carl Vinson before a shroud was placed around his body; and photos from the raid itself, which include shots of the interior of the compound as well as three of the others who died in the raid.
On May 4, Reuters published photos it said were taken by a Pakistan security official in the aftermath of the raid; the photos included images of the helicopter wreckage and three male dead bodies, none of whom appeared to be Osama bin Laden.
A source told ABC News that the photos taken by the military servicemen on the scene depict the physical damage done by a "high-caliber bullet". CBS Evening News reported that the photo shows that the bullet which hit above bin Laden's left eye blew out his left eyeball and blew away a large portion of his frontal skull, exposing his brain. CNN stated that the pictures from the Afghanistan hangar depict "a massive open head wound across both eyes. It's very bloody and gory." Senator Jim Inhofe, who viewed the photos, stated that the photos taken of the body on the Carl Vinson, which showed bin Laden's face after much of the blood and material had been washed away, should be released to the public.
A debate on whether the military photos should or should not be released to the public has taken place. Those supporting the release argued that the photos should be considered public records, that the photos are necessary to complete the journalistic record, and that the photos would prove bin Laden's death and therefore prevent conspiracy theories that bin Laden is still alive. Those in opposition to a release of the photos expressed concern that the photos would inflame anti-American sentiment in the Middle East.
President Obama ultimately decided not to release the photos. In an interview set to air on May 4 on 60 Minutes, Obama stated that "We don't trot out this stuff as trophies. We don't need to spike the football", and that he was concerned with ensuring 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. That's not who we are." Among Republican members of Congress, Senator Lindsey Graham criticized the decision and stated that he wanted to see the photos released, while Senator John McCain and Representative Mike Rogers, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, supported the decision not to release the photos.
On May 11, select members of Congress (the congressional leadership and those who serve in a committee of intelligence, homeland security, judiciary, foreign relations, and military) were shown 15 bin Laden photos. In an interview with Eliot Spitzer, Senator Jim Inhofe said that three of the photos were of bin Laden alive for identification reference. Three other photos were of the sea burial ceremony.
The group Judicial Watch announced that they have filed a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain access to the photos. On May 9, the Department of Defense declined to process Judicial Watch's FOIA request, prompting a lawsuit. A FOIA request from the Associated Press has also been declined.[1