Internal emails among US military officers indicate that no sailors watched Osama bin Laden’s burial at sea from the USS Carl Vinson and traditional Islamic procedures were followed during the ceremony.
The emails, obtained by The Associated Press through the Freedom of Information Act, are heavily blacked out, but are the first public disclosure of government information about the al-Qaida leader’s death. The emails were released by the US Defence Department.
Bin Laden was killed on May 1 2011, by a US Navy SEAL team that attacked his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
One email, stamped secret and sent on May 2 by a senior navy officer, briefly describes how bin Laden’s body was washed, wrapped in a white sheet, then placed in a weighted bag.
According to another message from the Vinson aircraft carrier’s public affairs officer, only a small group of the ship’s leadership was informed of the burial.
“Traditional procedures for Islamic burial were followed,” the May 2 email from Rear Admiral Charles Gaouette reads. “The deceased’s body was washed (ablution) then placed in a white sheet. The body was placed in a weighted bag. A military officer read prepared religious remarks, which were translated into Arabic by a native speaker. After the words were complete, the body was placed on a prepared flat board, tipped up, whereupon the deceased’s body slid into the sea.”
The email also included a cryptic reference to the intense secrecy surrounding the mission. “The paucity of documentary evidence in our possession is a reflection of the emphasis placed on operational security during the execution of this phase of the operation,” Rear Adm Gaouette’s message reads.
Recipients of the email included Admiral Mike Mullen, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and General James Mattis, the top officer at US Central Command. Adm Mullen retired from the military last September.
Earlier, Rear Adm Gaouette, then the deputy commander of the navy’s Fifth Fleet, and another officer used codewords to discuss whether the helicopters carrying the SEALs and bin Laden’s body had arrived on the Vinson.
“Any news on the package for us?” he asked Rear Adm Samuel Perez, commander of the carrier strike group that included the Vinson.
“FEDEX delivered the package,” Rear Adm Perez responded. “Both trucks are safely enroute home base.”
Although the Obama administration has pledged to be the most transparent in American history, it is keeping a tight hold on materials related to the bin Laden raid.
In a response to separate requests from the AP for information about the mission, the Defence Department said in March that it could not locate any photographs or video taken during the raid or showing bin Laden’s body. It also said it could not find any images of bin Laden’s body on the Vinson.
The Pentagon also said it could not find any death certificate, post-mortem report or results of DNA identification tests for bin Laden, or any pre-raid materials discussing how the government planned to dispose of bin Laden’s body if he were killed.
The US Defence Department also refused to confirm or deny the existence of helicopter maintenance logs and reports about the performance of military gear used in the raid.
One of the stealth helicopters that carried the SEALs to Abbottabad crashed during the mission and its wreckage was left behind. People who lived near bin Laden’s compound took photos of the disabled chopper.
The news agency is appealing against the Defence Department’s decision. The CIA, which ran the bin Laden raid and has special legal authority to keep information from ever being made public, has not responded to AP’s request for records about the mission.