By Pamela Wood, Staff Writer
They are the most sought-after photographs in the world, and U.S. Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger witnessed what many want to see: Images of slain terrorist Osama bin Laden.
Ruppersberger, who represents parts of Anne Arundel County in his Baltimore-area district, earned the position of top-ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee this year.
That’s how Ruppersberger ended up as one of the few people who got to see the bin Laden pictures. He viewed them Thursday at CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., and talked to The Capital about the experience:
The thing everyone wants to know about is the photos. Can you walk us through what that was like to actually see those?
There were about eight to nine pictures, and each picture had a live picture of bin Laden and then a picture after he was shot.
When you got into detail, they would have arrows pointing to his nose or his ear to make sure you could see the comparison of one picture versus another.
Let me say this: My first impression when I saw the first picture, there was absolutely no equivocation, from my point of view, that this was Osama bin Laden.
We know who he is. This is a man who coordinated the attack on the United States. He killed Americans. He attacked our country. So he has a lot of facial recognition.
There was no equivocation in my mind after looking at both of these pictures, that the man that was brought to justice and dumped in the sea was Osama bin Laden.
What was it like when you were in that room? Was it a group of you?
No, it was just me and I went to the CIA.
I went into a conference room, they brought out the pictures and had a couple people from the CIA that were helping to interpret some of the facial similarities of the two pictures. But I really didn’t need to do that.
Remember, I’m a former investigative prosecutor and I’ve tried murder cases. I’ve seen pictures like this before.
The pictures themselves, he had trauma to his face, there was no question. There was some blood, but it wasn’t as if the face was blown away. It was more like a bullet wound to his eye and his upper forehead.
There were some other pictures. One we saw was of his whole body where he had an undershirt on and he had, like, a tan robe.
And then one picture when he was getting ready to be dumped into the sea and that’s when he was wrapped up in some type of blanket, I guess.
Given what you’ve learned and are still learning about this operation, was this the right thing to do?
Oh, without a doubt.
I think, right now, the United States and their ability to fight terrorism and to identify people who are enemies who have killed Americans, or who are planning to kill Americans, I think we’re the best that we’ve been since I’ve been on the Intelligence Committee, and I’m going into my ninth year.
And I think it sends a great message because I think a lot of people – really, other countries – have said, “Is America as good as they think they are? They have not been able to bring bin Laden to justice.”
Well, we now have done that.
And we’ve sent a message to the world: If you’re going to attack the United States, if you’re going to kill Americans, then we’re going to find you and we’re going to bring you to justice.
Now, because we got bin Laden does not mean that there’s not a lot of terrorists out there in al-Qaeda that still exist.
We still have a lot to do in the area of intelligence and bringing this radical jihad to justice.
You’re entrusted with a whole load of very important and sensitive and confidential information. What’s that been like for you through your career moving up to a place where you have such a big role?
I think everything I’ve done in my career, hopefully, has prepared me for this.
I was a former investigative prosecutor. When I was going to law school, I worked as a police officer in Ocean City, Md. I managed a major county. I made my own payroll at one time.
My philosophy, we as Congress have to hold these intelligence agencies accountable for not breaking the law, for their performance – but our goal, really, is to build them up, not to tear them down. If they do something wrong, we hold them accountable. We also have to fund them, too.
Is there anything else you would want readers of The Capital — many of whom are your constituents — to know?
One of the things we have to talk about is Pakistan.
Either they had knowledge and they were implicated in protecting bin Laden or they were incompetent.
And I hope they were incompetent, because we need Pakistan to help us find terrorists. We’ve killed more terrorists in Pakistan than any country in the world.
They’re in a bad way now – they’re either incompetent or they were complicit, one or the other.
I think it’s an opportunity now for us to restart our relationship with Pakistan and let them know, “If you want us to continue to help fund you, you’re going to have to work with us a lot better. And you’re going to have to be more on top of this issue of terrorism.”
Because terrorism doesn’t help their country, just like it doesn’t help us, or any country in the world.
Also, the issue of the pictures. Why did we not let the public see the pictures? Because right now, we don’t want to make bin Laden a martyr.
I think it was a masterful move to drop him in the water, because that way there’s no shrine where people can come together and support him.
Maybe in the future those pictures can be made available, but at this point, I think it’s better not to, just because we don’t want to put American lives at risk because of those pictures. It might inflame a lot of people who are against us or in support of bin Laden.
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