A judge has denied a request to release photos and video taken of Osama bin Laden during and after a raid in which the terrorist leader was killed by US commandos.
In court papers, the US Justice Department had said that the images of the dead bin Laden were classified and were being withheld from the public to avoid inciting violence against Americans overseas and compromising secret systems and techniques used by the CIA and the military.
“The court declines plaintiff’s invitation to substitute its own judgment about the national-security risks inherent in releasing these records for that of the executive-branch officials who determined that they should be classified,” US District Judge James Boasberg wrote in rejecting a lawsuit filed by Judicial Watch, a conservative watchdog group.
The group, which had sought the records under the Freedom of Information Act, filed an appeal yesterday.
Judge Boasberg said that the Defence Department did not turn up anything responsive to the FOIA, while the CIA found 52 responsive records. The agency withheld all of them, citing exemptions for classified materials and information specifically exempted by other laws.
Judicial Watch had sued both agencies after they said they would be unable to process the FOIA requests within the time permitted by law. The agencies finished processing the requests after the lawsuit was filed.
“A picture may be worth a thousand words. And perhaps moving pictures bear an even higher value,” wrote Judge Boasberg, an appointee of President Barack Obama.
“Yet, in this case, verbal descriptions of the death and burial of Osama Bin Laden will have to suffice, for this court will not order the release of anything more.”
John Bennett, director of the CIA’s National Clandestine Service, said in a declaration included in the court papers that many of the photos and video recordings were “quite graphic, as they depict the fatal bullet wound to (bin Laden) and other similarly gruesome images of his corpse”.
Images were taken of bin Laden’s body at the Abbottabad compound in Pakistan, where he was killed by a Navy SEAL team last year, and during his burial at sea from the USS Carl Vinson, Mr Bennett said.
Judge Boasberg said he was “mindful that many members of the public would likely desire to see” the images.
“In the end, while this may not be the result plaintiff or certain members of the public would prefer, the CIA’s explanation of the threat to our national security that the release of these records could cause passes muster,” he wrote.