AP Protests Obama Administration Decision on Bin Laden Photos

A formal complaint asks the Pentagon to expedite consideration of its FOIA request

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The Associated Press is pushing back against the Obama administration's refusal to expedite its request for the photos and video taken during the raid on Osama bin Laden's compound. In an appeal filed with the Defense Department on Wednesday, the news agency argued that the government's delayed response is harming the public interest by allowing anonymous officials to "selectively leak details" of the raid without any validation from the press.

"While the government has released some information, there is much that remains to be known about the raid, its planning and aftermath," said Mike Oreskes, the AP's senior managing editor. "That is the reason for our request."

The move ups the ante on a confrontation pitting the White House against the AP, NPR, Politico, Reuters and a handful of other news agencies filing FOIAs for the bin Laden materials.

"Delaying release of the information harms the public interest in knowing what actions were taken by the government in preparation for the mission, and what information was learned after the fact, including whether the information is being properly conveyed to the public now," the AP's appeal read. They added, "Without expedited processing, requests for sensitive materials can be delayed for months and even years."

On Friday, the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch was the first organization to sue the government over its refusal to process bin Laden-related FOIA requests within the 20-day statutory time period. The group said the Pentagon was "unlawfully withholding records" and argued that Judicial Watch had "exhausted any and all administrative remedies" related to its request.

The likelihood of a FOIA request succeeding is uncertain. Scott Hodes, a FOIA attorney and former Justice Department lawyer in the office of information and privacy, told The Atlantic Wire there's a 10 percent chance of these news agencies successfully retrieving the bin Laden materials. "It's going to be very hard" he said, citing the CIA's broad exemption powers. However, Dan Metcalfe, who headed the Justice Department's office of information and privacy for more than 25 years, is more optimistic. “I think in time the photos will have to be released, regardless of President Obama’s present inclinations,” he said, arguing that photos of bin Laden are difficult to classify as sensitive unless they show military equipment such as helicopters. According to members of Congress, they don't.

An NBC News poll showed that nearly two-thirds of Americans support President Obama's decision to withhold the photographs. The majority of members of Congress who have seen bin Laden's postmortem photograph agree with the president as well. Notable dissenters include Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, who says the less graphic pictures of bin Laden taken before his sea burial should be released, and Texas Congressman Ron Paul. Today, on MSNBC's Morning Joe, Paul said the government needs to officially lay out the facts of the raid. "I don't know if anybody on your panel knows exactly what happened when he actually died and when they got the DNA evidence and when he was dropped," said the GOP presidential candidate. "People need to know more about their government."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.