The secret of Osama bin Laden's corpse will be kept a little longer: A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that more than 50 images of America's most-wanted terrorist will remain confidential — apparently because America's morbid, jingoistic fascination with the dead-body images, or conspiracy theories about them, aren't worth putting American lives at risk. The U.S. Court of Appeals ruling, for now, squashes what's been a two-year fight to see the photos released.
Almost exactly two years ago, several news outlets and political groups filed Freedom of Information Act requests to obtain the bin Laden death photos — each one had different reasons, ranging from the Associated Press claiming news value, to the conservative watchdog Judicial Group, which insinuated a cover-up at the time. They said:
President Obama's decision not to release the bin Laden photos is at odds with his promises to make his administration the most transparent in history ... President Obama's reluctance to spike the football is not a lawful reason for withholding these historic public documents from the American people.
But that's not how FOIAs work: The government is very much allowed to deny these requests, and have been known to approve them... with pages upon pages of redacted documents. But the D.C. circuit appeals decision appears to be based solely in the name of American security — and in line with a decision in April of last year from a federal judge who also denied the FOIA request, saying that the release of the photos would compromise American safety.
President Obama and his administration have, since the days following bin Laden's death, warned that the photos could lead to retaliations against Americans."It is not in our national security interest ... to allow these images to become icons to rally opinion against the United States," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said in 2011 And Reuters added: "In an unsigned opinion, the appeals court accepted an assertion from President Barack Obama's administration that the images are so potent that releasing them could cause riots that would put Americans abroad at risk."
Judicial Watch has stayed on the case the whole time, not only citing the administration's lack of transparency but also claiming that watchdog needs the photos to prove bin Laden received a proper Muslim burial — rather than whatever they were imagining. The group's lawyer, Michael Bekesha, stated that the classified pictures depicted "a somber burial in which the body of the mastermind of the most deadly terrorist attack of the U.S. was treated with the utmost dignity and respect," Bloomberg reported.
Judicial Watch has not responded for a comment in response to the ruling, and it is unclear if they will continue to pursue the procurement of the photos.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.