Bin Laden Death Photographs Stay Secret
WASHINGTON (CN) - A government watchdog cannot see possible footage of the killing of Osama bin Laden by a team of Navy Seals, a federal judge ruled on the eve of that attack's anniversary.
"A picture is worth a thousand words. And perhaps moving pictures bear an even higher value," U.S. District Judge James Boasberg wrote. "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."
Judicial Watch filed its requests for photographs and video recordings of the Seal Team Six operation just one day after President Barak Obama announced its success on the evening of May 1, 2011.
Citing exemptions for classified materials under the Freedom of Information Act, however, both the CIA and the Pentagon refused to release such records.
Claiming that the agencies may be unreasonably withholding records that should not be exempt, Judicial Watch challenged the Pentagon's allegedly inadequate search and the "generality at which the CIA described the fifty-two responsive records."
But Boasberg said the government's "arguments carry the day."
"The affidavits they have provided are sufficient to establish that DOD conducted an adequate search for responsive records and that the records identified by the CIA were classified materials properly withheld under exemption 1," he wrote.
Bin Laden was killed by a team of Navy Seals in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in the early morning hours of May 2, 2011, local time. Senior Pentagon and intelligence officials said that the terrorist leader's body was washed and placed in a white sheet before it was placed in a weighted bag and dumped into the sea.
Though the media reported and the White House confirmed that pictures of bin Laden's body had been taken, the government ultimately decided not to release them.
"The president himself later explained this decision, emphasizing the 'national security risk' involved and stating that the photos might serve '[a]s a propaganda tool' or 'an incitement to additional violence,'" Boasberg summarized.
CIA official John Bennett described the records requested by Judicial Watch as "quite graphic, as they depict the fatal bullet wound to [bin Laden]'s head and other similarly gruesome images of his corpse." Bennett said that the pictures were taken so that the agency could run a facial recognition analysis to confirm that it was bin Laden's body.
Regardless of what the pictures depict, the agency maintains that they are classified materials, and the judge was reluctant to say otherwise.
"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," the judge concluded. "This was 'the most highly classified operation that this government has undertaken in many, many years,'" he added, quoting White House Press Secretary Jay Carney.