US tries to block release of bin Laden images

Obama administration contends release would harm national security in response to freedom of information request.

    Officials cite security reasons for refusing access to information about the raid in Abbottabad [GALLO/GETTY]

    Public disclosure of graphic photos and video taken of Osama bin Laden after US commandos killed him would damage national security and lead to attacks on US property and personnel, the Obama administration contends in a court documents.

    In a response late on Monday to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by Judicial Watch, a conservative watchdog group seeking the imagery, Justice Department lawyers said the CIA found 52 photographs and video recordings of the May 1 operation in Pakistan.

    They argued that the images of the deceased bin Laden were classified and were being withheld from the public to avoid inciting violence against US citizens overseas and compromising secret systems and techniques used by the CIA and the military.

    The Justice Department has asked the court to dismiss Judicial Watch's lawsuit because the records the group wants are "wholly exempt from disclosure", according to the filing.

    Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, accused the Obama administration of making a "political decision" to keep the bin Laden imagery secret.

    "We shouldn't throw out our transparency laws because complying with them might offend terrorists," Fitton said in a statement.

    "The historical record of Osama bin Laden's death should be released to the American people as the law requires."

    'Gruesome images'

    The AP news agency also filed Freedom of Information Act requests to review a range of related materials, such as contingency plans for bin Laden's capture, reports on the performance of equipment during the assault on his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan and copies of DNA tests confirming the al-Qaida leader's identity.

    AP has also asked for video and photographs taken from the mission, including photos made of bin Laden after he was killed.

    The Obama administration refused AP's request to expedite the process, which could allow a decision to be delayed for months and even years.

    The news agency submitted its request to the Pentagon less than one day after bin Laden's death.

    In a declaration included in the documents, John Bennett, director of the CIA's National Clandestine Service, said many of the photos and video recordings were "quite graphic, as they depict the fatal bullet wound to [bin Laden] and other similarly gruesome images of his corpse."

    Images were taken of bin Laden's body at the Abbottabad compound, where he was killed by a Navy SEAL team, and during his burial at sea from the USS Carl Vinson, Bennett said.

    "The public release of the responsive records would provide terrorist groups and other entities hostile to the United States with information to create propaganda," Bennet wrote, "which, in turn, could be used to recruit, raise funds, inflame tensions, or rally support for causes and actions that reasonably could be expected to result in exceptionally grave damage to both the national defense and foreign relations of the United States."

    Navy Admiral William McRaven, the top officer at US Special Operations Command, said in a separate declaration that releasing the imagery could put the special operations team that carried out the assault on bin Laden's compound at risk by making them "more readily identifiable in the future".

    SOURCE: Agencies


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