WASHINGTON — Rep. Ben Chandler, D-Ky., is among a select group of lawmakers who have viewed the graphic photos of Osama bin Laden's body.
"They were gruesome, quite gruesome," said Chandler, who sits on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and who saw the photos Thursday morning. "Some were clearly taken shortly after the event and others that were taken before burial after his body had been washed. They showed him from several different angles. The striking thing was the size of the wound on his head."
Chandler described a large wound that spread over most of bin Laden's head, severe bruising, swelling and brain matter. The level of specific detail depicted in the photos, coupled with DNA evidence provided, should serve as proof of bin Laden's death, Chandler said.
However, he's aware that conspiracy theories will continue to swirl on the Internet and in the blogosphere. Chandler said he feels strongly that the Obama administration should release the photos to help quell rumors and serve as a deterrent to would-be terrorists.
"The truth is there are going to be some people who either believe in conspiracy theories or push propagandas for their own purposes," Chandler said. "History suggests it is a good idea to show the body or pictures to put at ease as many people as you can."
Lawmakers who have seen the photos have differed over whether they should be made public.
Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., saw some photos and came away convinced they must remain under lock and key.
"I was asked, personally, to keep them secret by folks in the intelligence field, who don't want those photos released," Nunes said Wednesday.
Also member of the House intelligence panel, Nunes cited his secrecy oath in strictly limiting his description of the photos whose disclosure he fears would endanger U.S. forces.
"I'll just say this," Nunes said. "He's dead."
But another lawmaker who saw the photos, Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe, insisted that at least some of the photos should be released. Inhofe said he spent about an hour examining more than a dozen photos, some showing gruesome wounds.
Inhofe was among the first in what is expected to be a caravan of lawmakers making the trek to CIA headquarters in Northern Virginia to view the photos.
Others have opted out.
"I don't want to see it," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said, calling the photos "morbid."
President Obama, saying he does not want to "spike the football," declared the photos would not be released publicly.
The public at large would have a chance to see the photos if AP and other news organizations succeed in Freedom of Information Act requests filed to gain access. The CIA, though, is likely to cite national security or other concerns in rejecting the FOIA requests.
At least some of the photos show bin Laden's face, or what remained of it after he was shot twice by a Navy SEAL. Administration officials say one bullet hit bin Laden, 54, above the left eye and the other entered his chest.
The type of weapon, caliber of bullet, distance at which bin Laden was shot and full extent of structural damage done have not been formally divulged.
Chandler said he understands the president's predicament and applauded the effort to kill bin Laden.
"I believe an enormous amount of courage was required to get this guy to begin with," Chandler said. The president "deserves credit for making a very, very bold decision. Thank goodness it was successful."