The White House has decided not to release photos of dead al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, officials said on Wednesday as a debate erupted over whether the pictures should be issued for public viewing.
President Barack Obama "has decided against photo release," a US official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry told Reuters he had been told the photographs will not be released. "I believe it is absolutely the right decision," Kerry said.
"Absent some major challenge to the fact of death, there is no clamor that I can discern requiring proof of death and I think it would in fact create a kind of ghoulish exploitation that is not appropriate ... could encourage repercussions in parts of the world."
The Obama administration has been wrestling with whether to make public what it calls a gruesome image of bin Laden's corpse, even as Islamic militants are questioning whether U.S. forces really killed him.
US forces who raided the compound where bin Laden was living in Pakistan on Monday shot bin Laden in the face, one US official says. This official said on Wednesday that bits of brain are visible in photos of the corpse.
Senator Kelly Ayotte who earlier told reporters at the US Capitol she had seen a photo of the deceased bin Laden, backtracked late on Wednesday, saying she could not confirm the authenticity of the picture.
"While I was shown a photo by another senator of what appeared to be a deceased Osama bin Laden, I do not know if it was authentic. However, I do believe a photo of the dead al Qaeda leader should be released," Ayotte said.
"Although some may be upset by the image of someone who has been shot in the head, releasing a photo is important to put to rest any conspiracy theories that may arise around the world and to provide for closure," she said.
US lawmakers disagree over whether the photos of bin Laden should be released to the public. Ayotte said they should -- to help quash any doubts about whether bin Laden was dead.
"Unfortunately, we've seen that in many instances around the world there can be conspiracy theories about these types of events. So I think it's important in terms of closure, that while nobody wants to see disturbing photos, the closure aspect I think is very important."
But House Intelligence Committee chairman Mike Rogers said releasing the photos "will only serve to inflame opinion in the Middle East."
"Osama bin Laden is not a trophy -- he is dead and let's now focus on continuing the fight until al Qaeda has been eliminated," he said in a statement.