Court rules bin Laden death photos can stay secret

WASHINGTON Tue May 21, 2013 1:44pm EDT

U.S. President Barack Obama (2nd L) and Vice President Joe Biden (L), along with members of the national security team, receive an update on the mission against Osama bin Laden in the Situation Room of the White House, May 1, 2011. REUTERS/White House/Pete Souza/Handout

U.S. President Barack Obama (2nd L) and Vice President Joe Biden (L), along with members of the national security team, receive an update on the mission against Osama bin Laden in the Situation Room of the White House, May 1, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/White House/Pete Souza/Handout

Related Topics

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A federal appeals court ruled on Tuesday that the U.S. government had properly classified top secret more than 50 images of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden taken after his death, and that the government did not need to release them.

The unanimous ruling by three judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit rejected a request for the images by a conservative nonprofit watchdog group.

Judicial Watch sued for photographs and video from the May 2011 raid in which U.S. special forces killed bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan, after more than a decade of searching.

The organization's lawsuit relied on the Freedom of Information Act, a 1966 law that guarantees public access to some government documents.

In an unsigned opinion, the appeals court accepted an assertion from President Barack Obama's administration that the images are so potent that releasing them could cause riots that would put Americans abroad at risk.

"It is undisputed that the government is withholding the images not to shield wrongdoing or avoid embarrassment, but rather to prevent the killing of Americans and violence against American interests," the opinion said.

The court ruled that the risk of violence justifies the decision to classify the images top secret, and that the CIA may withhold the images under an exception to the Freedom of Information Act for documents that are classified.

Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said in a statement that the ruling "would allow terrorists to dictate our laws." Fitton said his lawyers are considering what to do next. The group could ask the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case.

A spokeswoman for the Justice Department, which represents the Obama administration in court, had no immediate comment.

The images show a dead bin Laden at his compound in 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.

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

(Reporting by David Ingram; Editing by Doina Chiacu and Cynthia Osterman)

FILED UNDER:
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 (31)
Unchained wrote:
Since the camera was invented over 160 years ago in the 1850′s, every military conquest has been accompanied by the requisite photos of corresponding victory, like flags placed on strategic spots. Except this one. Reminds me of the old saying: “All war is based on lies.”
-Sun Tzu, The Art of War

May 21, 2013 10:37am EDT  --  Report as abuse
rob1946 wrote:
It’s curious that there are a roomful of people here for an obviously staged photo, but with Benghazi, there is not one photo of anyone in this administration doing anything.

May 21, 2013 11:55am EDT  --  Report as abuse
news_blues wrote:
Another scandal is erupting.

May 21, 2013 12:17pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.

Full focus