Images of a dead bin Laden still dangerous: U.S. lawyer

WASHINGTON Thu Jan 10, 2013 12:09pm EST

Demonstrators carry a poster of Osama Bin Laden during a protest condemning a U.S. produced movie insulting Islam's Prophet Mohammad in Tahrir Square September 14, 2012. The poster reads: ''May God have mercy on the soul of Sheikh Osama Bin Laden. Wait for more hurtful reactions from us.'' REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih

Demonstrators carry a poster of Osama Bin Laden during a protest condemning a U.S. produced movie insulting Islam's Prophet Mohammad in Tahrir Square September 14, 2012. The poster reads: ''May God have mercy on the soul of Sheikh Osama Bin Laden. Wait for more hurtful reactions from us.''

Credit: Reuters/Asmaa Waguih

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Twenty months after U.S. special forces killed Osama bin Laden, the United States told a court on Thursday it is not ready to release images taken after the al Qaeda leader's death because they still might lead to violence.

A federal appeals court heard arguments in a lawsuit over whether the government must release the images under the Freedom of Information Act, a 1966 law that guarantees public access to some government records.

President Barack Obama's administration points to an exception in the law that covers documents classified in the interest of national defense.

"They'll be used to inflame tensions. They'll be used to inspire retaliatory attacks," Justice Department lawyer Robert Loeb told the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Riots or other forms of violence could threaten American soldiers as well as civilians in Afghanistan, Loeb said.

The government has 52 photographs or videos - the medium has not been revealed - from the May 2011 raid in which U.S. special forces killed bin Laden after more than a decade of searching. The images show a dead bin Laden at his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, the transportation of his body to a U.S. ship and his burial at sea, the government has said.

Some of the photographs were taken so the CIA could conduct facial recognition analysis to confirm the body's identity, according to court papers.

Two of the court's three judges, Merrick Garland and Judith Rogers, asked questions indicating they were inclined to defer to the judgment of officials in sworn court affidavits advising against release.

"They're telling us that could result in death - not just the release of secret information, but death," Garland said. "Is that not something we should defer to?"

Michael Bekesha, a lawyer for Judicial Watch, a government watchdog group suing for the images, said the government failed to show the danger of releasing the less-graphic burial images.

Judicial Watch also claims that CIA officials might not have followed procedures when they classified the images as secret.

A decision from the appeals court is likely in the next few months. A lower court judge sided with the government in April.

The case is Judicial Watch Inc v. Department of Defense, U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, No. 12-5137.

(Editing by Vicki Allen)

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
Comments (3)
xyz2055 wrote:
This guy is worm food….let’s move on.

Jan 10, 2013 12:02pm EST  --  Report as abuse
Meh. Osama was an ugly cuss when he was alive. I’d say I can do without knowing what he looked like dead.

Jan 10, 2013 1:31pm EST  --  Report as abuse
CitizenAbroad wrote:
“They’re telling us that could result in death – not just the release of secret information, but death,” Garland said. “Is that not something we should defer to?”

A very serious concern by Americans living in unstable parts of the world is a new US law called FATCA that will require foreign banks to identify American citizens doing business with them and gather other kinds of information about them. An editorial called “FATCA’s Security Problem” in a Lebanon publication in December has highlighted how dangerous this data collection could be:

“However, there is one aspect of FATCA that has not been sufficiently examined, but that remains potentially hazardous. The American government is effectively asking foreign institutions to prepare detailed data bases of American citizens, with no guidelines explaining how this information must be protected. For a country obsessed with the security of its citizens in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, such behavior is paradoxical, indeed astonishing.

Foreign financial institutions will effectively become vast repositories of information on Americans—including what they earn, the sources of their income, what they spend, where they live, who their family members are, and so on. In their zeal to implicitly label Americans living abroad as tax cheats requiring monitoring, the sponsors of FATCA have shown utter indifference to the safety of their citizens.

In some countries, the American authorities are well aware that their enemies have ready access to financial institutions. The Lebanese Canadian Bank scandal, in which bank managers were accused of helping Hezbollah launder money, showed that this was true in Lebanon. What is to prevent anti-American groups elsewhere from gaining access to data on American citizens, and possibly using this to their advantage? FATCA helps make it eminently possible.

Strangely, we have heard nothing about FATCA from the State Department, which is responsible for Americans overseas. At a time when American embassies regularly issue advisories to citizens to guarantee their safety, we are seeing the IRS asking institutions abroad to gather the most sensitive facts on Americans, with no oversight. The irresponsibility is breathtaking. Worse, because FATCA imposes pariah status on Americans abroad, whatever rightful protest they have against the legislation will sound suspicious.”

Jan 11, 2013 3:50pm EST  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.