Beatrice’s hat: real reason Bin Laden photos withheld

Princess Beatrice hat in White House Situation Room

White House was worried internet pranksters would crown Osama body with that royal wedding hat

BY Sophie Taylor LAST UPDATED AT 11:58 ON Fri 13 May 2011

President Barack Obama's protestations that the photographs of Osama bin Laden's dead body are too gruesome for squeamish Americans have been swatted aside by the US defence secretary Robert Gates, who says the "primary reason" was because internet pranksters couldn't be trusted not to Photoshop Princess Beatrice's comical royal wedding hat onto his mutilated head.

At a meeting with US marines in North Carolina, Gates acknowledged that the pictures themselves - which have so far been offered for viewing only to members of Congress - would upset jihadist fans of Bin Laden. But he added, according to Politico, that "we were also worried about the potential for manipulation of those photos and doing things with those photos that would be pretty outrageous".

Gates went on: "The primary reason I think that the president made the decision he did was not only to protect our troops, but also to protect other Americans who are living abroad... because if these photos were misused, then the danger of them inflaming reaction we considered to be very real."

Illustrating his point, Gates referred to the now famous picture of himself and other members of the national security committee watching the operation to kill Osama bin Laden from the White House Situation Room. Within hours of the photograph's release, Photoshopped versions of it were all over the internet, including the one (above) in which everyone is wearing the Philip Treacy hat Princess Beatrice wore to the royal wedding.

"I have gotten from friends all over the country copies of this iconic picture taken in the Situation Room while we were watching the operation," said Gates. "They have been Photoshopped in every way you can imagine, including putting all of us in one of these big, wide-brimmed hats from the [royal] wedding."

Wide-brimmed? Octopus-shaped, more like. · 

For further concise, balanced comment and analysis on the week's news, try The Week magazine. Subscribe today and get 6 issues completely free.