U.S. government fights to block release of bin Laden death photos

The U.S. Department of Justice has filed court documents arguing against releasing photos and video of Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden’s death in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch.

Justice officials said the 52 images of the deceased bin Laden were classified and could prompt violence against Americans overseas if they were made public, The Associated Press reports.

The government asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit.

In a declaration included in the documents, John Bennett, director of the CIA's National Clandestine Service, described the photos and video recordings as "quite graphic, as they depict the fatal bullet wound to (bin Laden) and other similarly gruesome images of his corpse," the AP reports. Images were taken of bin Laden's body at the Abbottabad compound and during his burial at sea from the USS Carl Vinson, Bennett said.

The government's filings were also accompanied by a declaration from Admiral William McRaven, who's in charge of the U.S. Special Operations Command and commands the Navy SEALs who carried out the bin Laden raid, Politico reports. McRaven wrote that releasing the images would likely “make the special operations unit that participated in this operation and its members more readily identifiable in the future."

Judicial Watch said it disagreed with the government’s arguments. “There’s always something that can be released," Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton told the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

According to Politico:

The legal fight over the bin Laden photos has produced some disagreement among FOIA experts. Some expect the government to prevail in the case without much difficulty because courts are traditionally very deferential to the executive branch in litigation involving national security, particularly FOIA cases. However, a few FOIA specialists have said aspects of the government's arguments against disclosure is weaker than in other cases, chiefly because of reliance on the harms that stem in essence from the public relations impact the imagery could have.

Judicial Watch is one of several organizations, including the AP and Politico, that has requested photos and video of bin Laden’s death, Politico reports.

The judge in the case is unlikely to rule before December, Politico reports.