Bin Laden Death Photos: Why Did Court Rule Not To Release Photos From Abbottabad Raid?

By Philip Ross on May 21, 2013 3:59 PM EDT

bin laden raid
The manhunt for Osama Bin Laden culminated in May of 2011 when U.S. NAVY Seal team on the Al Qaeda leader’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Photos taken at the scene of Bin Laden’s death were kept sealed from the public. (Photo: Reuters)

The Osama bin Laden death photos, taken during the 2010 NAVY Seal raid on the al Qaeda leader's thick-walled mansion in Abbottabad, Pakistan, will not be released to the public, a U.S. appeals court affirmed Tuesday. Instead, the photos of bin Laden's corpse will remain top secret, Sky News reports.

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The ruling came after Judicial Watch, a conservative nonprofit watchdog group, sued the government for the images of Bin Laden's dead body at the site of the raid in Abbottabad. Today, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Colombia upheld a 2012 ruling not to release the images of bin Laden's corpse.

"The opinion is craven, absurd, and undermines the rule of law," Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, said in a statement. "Americans' fundamental right to access government information and, frankly, the First Amendment are implicated in this ruling."

In its lawsuit, Judicial Watch cited the Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA, a piece of legislation passed in 1966 that allows the public to access certain government documents. Under the FOIA, it is the responsibility of the government to justify withholding information from the American public. The law also provides nine exemptions to public disclosure, one of them being in the interest of national defense or foreign policy (other exemptions include personal medical records and the locations of wells).

The organization released the following memo regarding today's court ruling on the bin Laden death photos:

Judicial Watch, the public interest group that investigates and prosecutes government corruption, today criticized a ruling by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Colombia affirming a U.S. District Court decision allowing the Department of Defense (DOD) and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to withhold 59 images from the raid on Osama bin Laden's compound and the terrorist mastermind's burial at sea

All along, the Obama administration has argued that photos of the bin Laden raid must not be released for fear of retaliation from those who might be angered by the images. The White House maintains that releasing the images would jeopardize national security and put American personnel and property abroad in danger, Salon reported. From Salon:

In a declaration included in the documents, John Bennett, director of the CIA's National Clandestine Service, said many of the photos and video recordings are "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, where he was killed by a Navy SEAL team, and during his burial at sea from the USS Carl Vinson, Bennett said.

Officials said that they buried bin Laden out at sea in order to avoid having a burial plot where followers could go and visit his grave.

Skeptics of the government's purported story of bin Laden's death, like Alex Jones, an American radio host and author who hosts a website called Infowars, say that the death of bin Laden is a cover-up motivated by political needs, and even condemned the supposed smoke-screen as Obama's attempt to solidify his reelection.

"Infowars has maintained for years that bin Laden died in 2002 and that his corpse would be dragged out at the most politically expedient moment," read a post on Infowars' website. "This has most definitely been the case."

In another post, Infowars argued that the burial of bin Laden at sea was a hoax and that no sailors witnessed the burial.

"The Pentagon does not have a death certificate, autopsy 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," Kurt Nimmo wrote for Infowars.

When the Associated Press petitioned the government just one day after bin Laden's death for material related to the 2011 raid on bin Laden's compound, they were met with closed doors. They, too, requested that the bin Laden death photos be released. The Pentagon denied AP's entreaty.

Read more from iScience Times:

Bin Laden Shooter Dispute: Who's The Real American Hero?

SEAL Who Shot Bin Laden Returns Disabled: Why Is Former SEAL Without Pension And Health Care?

Bin Laden Burial: Group Calls For Release Of Dead Osama Bin Laden Photos

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