This just in from the FBI’s department of the bleedin’ obvious: if someone emails you with pictures of Osama bin Laden’s bullet-riddled corpse, this is probably an attempt to compromise your computer with viruses rather than a public-spirited effort intended to confirm that he really is dead.
According to the FBI announcement, which seems to be pitched very much at the sort of people who would need such advice:
This content could be a virus that could damage your computer. This malicious software, or “malware”, can embed itself in computers and spread to users’ contact lists, thereby infecting the systems of associates, friends, and family members. These viruses are often programmed to steal your personally identifiable information.
As of publication the US says it has photos of bin Laden’s body, but describes them as “gruesome” – he was apparently shot in the head – and none have been publicly released.
There are Geneva Convention prohibitions on exhibiting images of dead enemy service personnel; that is, uniformed national troops belonging to a an enemy nation which has also signed the Convention. Such prohibitions would not apply to bin Laden, but nonetheless there would doubtless be criticism for the US should pictures of his body be published. On the other hand, not publishing them appears to be stoking conspiracy theories to the effect that the al-Qaeda mastermind is not actually dead.
Nonetheless his death is a terrifically powerful event, both for Americans who have so long sought vengeance for 9/11 and for jihadis worldwide who saw bin Laden as a symbol if not as a useful operational commander. The latter seem about as likely to be convinced that their idol is really dead as diehard Elvis spotters, so the US would be unlikely to convince them by releasing pictures – and malware artists and virus writers will no doubt continue to exploit the knowledge that such pictures exist.
In an effort to placate Muslim sentiment, the US forces – having recovered bin Laden’s body to an aircraft carrier offshore, avoiding any chance that the Pakistanis might demand custody of it – buried it swiftly, as is required by Muslim custom: in this case at sea. This will probably draw more criticism and stoke conspiracy theories further, but (the US planners hope) will result in less anger than would have resulted from keeping the body unburied.