Osama bin Laden
Twenty months after U.S. special forces killed Osama bin
Laden, the United States has told a court it is not ready to
release images taken after the al Qaeda leader's death because
they still might lead to violence.
A federal appeals court heard arguments in a lawsuit over
whether the government must release the images under the
Freedom of Information Act, a 1966 law that guarantees public
access to some government records.
President Barack Obama's administration points to an
exception in the law that covers documents classified in the
interest of national defense.
"They'll be used to inflame tensions. They'll be used to
inspire retaliatory attacks," Justice Department lawyer
Robert Loeb told the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District
of Columbia Circuit.
Riots or other forms of violence could threaten American
soldiers as well as civilians in Afghanistan, Loeb said.
The government has 52 photographs or videos - the medium has
not been revealed - from the May 2011 raid in which U.S.
special forces killed bin Laden after more than a decade of
searching. The images show a dead bin Laden at his compound
in Abbottabad, 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.
Two of the court's three judges, Merrick Garland and Judith
Rogers, asked questions indicating they were inclined to
defer to the judgment of officials in sworn court affidavits
advising against release.
"They're telling us that could result in death - not just the
release of secret information, but death," Garland said. "Is
that not something we should defer to?"
Michael Bekesha, a lawyer for Judicial Watch, a government
watchdog group suing for the images, said the government
failed to show the danger of releasing the less-graphic
Judicial Watch also claims that CIA officials might not have
followed procedures when they classified the images as
A decision from the appeals court is likely in the next few
months. A lower court judge sided with the government in
The case is Judicial Watch Inc v. Department of Defence, U.S.
Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, No. 12-5137.