Release the photos!

There are good arguments on both sides. Allahpundit here makes the case for not releasing the photos. By contrast, Jack Shafer says release them.

I respect Allahpundit’s position but agree with Shafer that the photos should be released.

Let’s take one of Allahpundit’s arguments: that there will always been conspiracy theorists:

I can think of four arguments for releasing the photos. One: It’ll prove that he’s dead. Except, of course, that it won’t. Conspiracy cranks will screech about the pic being doctored or the victim being an impostor (“those aren’t his eyebrows!”) within five minutes of it being posted. There’s no such thing as “proof” anymore; the Internet age is proof-proof. If anything, the more evidence you provide, the more pretexts you create for kooks to pose moronic challenges to it. If the White House wants to reassure people that the photos exist, they can show them to Republican leaders, to members of the press, and maybe to 9/11 families for their satisfaction. (Scott Brown apparently has already seen them.)

This is an example of a fallacious argument I will call the “It would happen anyway” fallacy. Under this argument, taking an action to prevent or minimize a harm is pointless if the harm will happen anyway after the action is taken. Why lock up criminals when crime will always continue? Why should Obama release his birth certificate if there will still be Birther conspiracy theories after its release? Why bother making your argument in the clearest possible fashion if you know people will try to twist your words anyway? Why bother streamlining death penalty appeals in one respect when you know the entire process will still take a long time?

These sorts of arguments are defeatist and illogical. The argument assumes that partially accomplishing a goal is pointless unless the goal is fully accomplished. What about the fact that the goal will be partially accomplished?

It’s important to prove bin Laden was really killed, and obviously the pictures are part of that proof. Allahpundit acknowledges this fact when he agrees that the photos should be shown to congressional leaders or 9/11 victims’ families. Why is that? Because once they have seen the photos, that will provide them with a greater sense of certainty. Well, the same is true of the rest of the world. And calibrating the presentation of your proof based on the likely reaction of a bunch of cranks is not my idea of a sensible policy.

Providing proof becomes more important every day the White House screws up the story further. Osama used his wife as a human shield; no wait, he didn’t. He was armed; no wait, he wasn’t. There was helmet cam video; no wait, there wasn’t. The administration has so badly screwed up the presentation of the basic facts that even sensible people are starting to have doubts about the credibility of the narrative. Releasing the photos will help provide proof, to accomplishing the goal of persuading the persuadable.

Let me use a “it will happen anyway” argument in favor of releasing the pictures. We are told that releasing the photos will inflame the Muslim world against us. Well, guess what? That will happen anyway. So why bother?

See? If you’re in favor of releasing the photos, that argument probably sounds pretty good. When you already agree with the person making the “it will happen anyway” argument (or any other fallacious argument), the fallacy is harder to spot.

In truth, we who argue in favor of releasing the photos believe in their release for other reasons, and use the “it will happen anyway” argument as cover. If we really think about it, we need to confront the fact that releasing the photos may indeed serve as an icon for radical Islam. The reason we don’t care isn’t because “it will happen anyway.” It’s because we have another, better argument for why withholding the pictures will inflame radical Muslims even more.

The reason we believe this is simple: we don’t see radical Islamists as appeasable. We have walked the road of trying to gain their friendship by gestures of appeasement before. Ask the Israelis how that works out. Every time they make a major concession to the radical Islamists, it brings Israel closer to peace, right? Wrong. It emboldens the radicals.

Simply put: you don’t back down with radical Islamists. They see the weakness and try to exploit it.

As for the sensitivities of the non-radical Muslim world, they disowned this cretin bin Laden long ago. If they didn’t, they’re radical by definition. So let’s not worry about their sensitivities either.

Forget “Muslim sensitivities.” We need to prove that we did what we did.

Let me back up a second and explain my perspective. As a prosecutor, proving assertions is my habit. If I say something, it’s second nature to want to provide the evidence. There are limits to this principle, as there are to any principle — but generally, if you make the assertion and you’re holding the proof in your hand, but you won’t release the proof . . . it makes me suspicious about what you might be hiding.

Releasing the photos won’t convince the whole world. But it is part of the proof, and will go a long way towards convincing those who are capable of being convinced.

Or, we can just let Obama control what facts we should know and what facts we shouldn’t, because by gum, he knows best.

Somehow, that doesn’t sound like too great an idea to me.