Conflict & Justice

US judge rejects request for release of Osama bin Laden death photos


A pedestrian walks past a TV news report about the killing of Osama Bin Laden, at a railway station in Seoul on May 2, 2011.


Jung Yeon-Je

A US court has refused to release photos and videos from American military raid that killed Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in Pakistan last year.

In response to an initial freedom of information request by Judicial Watch, the Defense Department said it found no pictures or videos sought by the group relating to the May 2 operation at bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, Politico reported.

The CIA said it found 52 such records but refused to release them, and also cited exemptions to the US Freedom of Information Act law for classified materials and other reasons.

Judicial Watch then approached the court

However, US District Court Judge James Boasberg rejected the Judicial Watch request, writing that the courts must defer to the conclusion President Barack Obama and military leaders on the basis that releasing them could spur violence against US troops and other Americans traveling abroad

The Associated Press quoted him as writing in a 29-page ruling: "The court declines plaintiff's invitation to substitute its own judgment about the national-security risks inherent in releasing these records for that of the executive-branch officials who determined that they should be classified."

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According to Politico, he added: "A picture may be worth a thousand words. And perhaps moving pictures bear an even higher value. 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.

"The Court is... mindful that many members of the public would likely desire to see images of this seminal event. Indeed, it makes sense that the more significant an event is to our nation — and the end of bin Laden's reign of terror certainly ranks high — the more need the public has for full disclosure. Yet, it is not this Court's decision to make in the first instance," Boasberg added.

After bin Laden was killed in the Navy SEAL raid, President Barack Obama decreed that no photos or videos of the operation or the terror leader would be publicly released.

"We don't need to spike the football and I think that given the graphic nature of these photos, it would create some national security risk," Obama told the CBS' 60 Minutes.

"We don't trot out this stuff as trophies."

According to Fox News, Judicial Watch plans to appeal the decision, saying there is "no provision under law to keep documents secret because their release might offend our terrorist enemies."

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