The U.S. government has missed its legal deadline to respond to Freedom of Information Act requests for the photos and videos taken during the raid on Osama bin Laden's compound in Pakistan. On Monday, May 2, the Associated Press filed its request for a range of materials, including "contingency plans for bin Laden's capture, reports on the performance of equipment during the mission and copies of DNA tests confirming the al-Qaida leader's identity." That same week, Politico filed a FOIA request for "any and all photographs and video" taken during the raid. The U.S. government had 20 business days to respond and missed that deadline last week. The remaining option news agencies have is to sue the Defense Department or the Central Intelligence Agency for the materials. But it's far from certain that any of these companies are willing to go to court.
Besides the AP and Politico, the list of media organizations that filed FOIA requests for the materials includes NPR, CBS News and Reuters. While AP spokesman Paul Colford told The Atlantic Wire today that his organization is "still considering [its] options" to sue the government, CBS News, Politico and Reuters declined to comment on the issue. NPR has not responded to requests for comment.
If the media organizations were to stop fighting for the raid materials after just one month, it would be surprising considering how vocally some of them protested the government's decision to withhold the evidence. In early May, NPR executive editor Dick Meyers said "journalists should be standing for transparency and releasing the information." The AP's senior managing editor Mike Oreskes agreed. "It's our job as journalists to seek this material," he said last month. It's possible that a struggle is going on between the heads of the news departments and other senior executives at the organizations over whether to sue. The news services contacted would not elaborate on the details of their decision. Out of all the news agencies that have filed FOIA requests, the AP has conveyed the most frustration with the government's position. On May 18, the AP protested the Defense Department's refusal to process its request in 20 business days, filing a written appeal. "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. The appeal was filed 22 days ago.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.