Bin Laden Death Images Will Remain Secret

     WASHINGTON (CN) – The CIA need not release photos of Osama bin Laden’s body or his burial at sea to a government watchdog, the D.C. Circuit ruled.
     Judicial Watch sought photos 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.
     A year to the day of that mission, U.S. District Judge James Boasberg ruled against Judicial Watch, backing the government’s FOIA exemption for national security.
     “A picture is worth a thousand words. And perhaps moving pictures bear an even higher value,” U.S. District Judge James Boasberg wrote then. “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.”
     A three-judge panel for D.C. Circuit agreed.
     “As the district court rightfully concluded … the CIA’s declarations give reason to believe that releasing images of American military personnel burying the founder and leader of al Qaeda could cause exceptionally grave harm,” Chief Judge Merrick Garland wrote in the unanimous ruling.
     Both Garland and Boasberg cited CIA official John Bennett, who 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 the pictures were taken so that the agency could run facial recognition analysis to confirm that it was bin Laden’s body, but releasing the images could incite violence.
     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 the terrorist leader’s body was washed and placed in a white sheet, then put into a weighted bag and dumped into the sea.
     Though media reported and the White House confirmed that pictures of bin Laden’s body had been taken, the government 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 wrote last year.
     The CIA and the Pentagon both claimed FOIA exemptions for classified materials in withholding the images.
     “As we have said before, ‘any affidavit or other agency statement of threatened harm to national security will always be speculative to some extent,'” Judge Garland wrote. “Our role is to ensure that those predictions are ‘logical’ or ‘plausible.’ We agree with the district court that the CIA’s declarations in this case cross that threshold.”

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