GREENVILLE, S.C. (AP) — Several Republican presidential hopefuls want President Barack Obama to release photos that prove U.S. forces killed Osama bin Laden during a covert raid in Pakistan, criticizing the Democrat's decision-making just days after many praised him for getting the world's most-wanted terrorist.
Texas Rep. Ron Paul said Thursday that he sides with transparency when there is public doubt. Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty said "it would have been OK to release the photos." And former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin accused Obama of "pussy-footing" on making the photos public.
It was a contrast to the initial words of commendation that came from many of Obama's potential GOP rivals just hours after he announced that American forces had tracked down and shot to death the al-Qaida leader behind the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
By Thursday, some of Obama's potential challengers were criticizing his decision to withhold photos of bin Laden's corpse. Obama has likened the release of the photographs — they are privately described as gruesome by those who have seen them — to spiking a football in the end zone: not what the United States does.
At least one Republican hopeful in a still-forming field agreed. "It's best not to release the photo because it has the potential to incite retaliatory violence against Americans," former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said in a statement.
Critics say that releasing the photographs could inflame the nation's enemies. But advocates say releasing the photos could counter conspiracy theories about whether bin Laden is, in fact, dead.
Five of the dozen or so Republicans considering candidacies were in South Carolina on Thursday for the first debate of the GOP nomination fight. Romney, Palin and the field's other big names were skipping the event. Most of those participating barely register in polls, have limited appeal to the general public and have little chance of winning the nomination.
Participating were Pawlenty, Paul, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson and pizza magnate Herman Cain.
The Associated Press decided not to cover the debate to protest limits placed on media coverage by its organizers. Fox News Channel and the South Carolina Republican Party, the sponsors, are barring still photographers from entering the hall in Greenville, S.C., during the debate. That is a change from past debates, when Fox permitted still photographers greater access. Reuters also has told Fox and the South Carolina Republican Party that it will not accept such coverage restrictions.
In an interview before the debate, Paul pushed for the release of the bin Laden photos, saying that the various versions about what happened during the raid required the release of hard evidence.
"If something comes up and people are ambivalent, always lean toward openness," said Paul, who also pushed for winding down the military's operations in Afghanistan.
At a tea party rally in Greenville before the debate, Johnson declared: "We got Osama bin Laden, let's get out of Afghanistan."
Earlier this week in Iowa, Pawlenty weighed in on the photos, saying: "This is somebody who had no regard for the 3,000 or so Americans that he killed on 9/11 in horrific conditions; buildings crushing, people jumping out of windows ... And somehow the notion that he and his followers would be offended by that, when they are, in fact, the purveyors of terror. I think it would have been OK to release the photos."
Palin went further, posting this to her Twitter account: "Show photo as warning to others seeking America's destruction. No pussy-footing around, no politicking, no drama; it's part of the mission."
Associated Press writer Jim Davenport contributed to this report.