The ethics of the online photos of Moammar Gadhafi
Gruesome photos of an apparently lifeless Moammar Gadhafi raced around the Internet today as news broadcasters struggled to confirm reports that Libya’s longtime strongman was dead.
First came a photograph showing what appeared to be Gadhafi’s bloodied face slumped against a man’s crimson-stained leg, as he was manhandled, dead or dying, among a crowd.
A short time later, Arabic news channel Al Jazeera broadcast blurry cell phone footage of what was apparently Gadhafi’s half-naked body being hauled along a street, leaving a trail of blood on the pavement.
The death of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein in 2006 was seen around the world after unauthorized cell phone footage that captured him on the gallows, being taunted by witnesses, was posted online.
U.S. authorities had three years earlier released images of the bodies of his sons, Uday and Qusay, who were feared nationwide as ruthless killers and protectors of their father’s dictatorship. Former CIA Director James Woolsey told CNN at the time: “I think it’s necessary for the world to see and particularly for the Iraqis to see that these two are, in fact, dead, that this is not some ginned-up story from the United States.”
In contrast, President Barack Obama decided not to release photographs of al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden after his death in May.
The logic there was presumed to be that the sight of the Saudi’s injuries at the hands of U.S. forces might further antagonize his supporters and anger Muslims who had not previously backed him, increasing the future Islamist terror threat.
Today, while the ethics of taking snapshots of dead dictators is still up for discussion, the ubiquity of cell phones equipped with cameras — and the way such images swiftly find their way to the waiting world — means doubts are far less likely.