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Utah's Right to Know
Donald Meyers
Donald W. Meyers writes about open-government issues for The Salt Lake Tribune. He is also the site manager of utahsright.com, the Tribune's online database of public records. He is also a member of the Society of Professional Journalists' National Freedom of Information Committee and sits on the board of directors of the Utah Foundation for Open Government.

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Pictures of Osama bin Laden’s corpse to remain secret, judges say

If you find pictures purporting to be those of Osama bin Laden’s body after he was killed by U.S. Navy SEALs, they’re most likely frauds.

The government is not letting anyone in the public see them.

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A three-judge panel of the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled that the government was justified in denying Freedom of Information Act requests for the photos and videos taken after the raid, including bin Laden’s burial at sea, because it would endanger national security. The court found that the Defense Department and the CIA properly classified the documents as private.

"This is not a case in which the declarants are making predictions about the consequences of releasing any images," the court wrote. "Rather, they are predicting the consequences of releasing an extraordinary set of images, ones that depict American military personnel burying the founder and leader of [al-Qauida]."

Judicial Watch, a government watchdog group, requested the pictures shortly after President Barrack Obama announced that commandos killed bin Laden in his Abbottabad, Pakistan, hideout, ending a manhunt that stretched out almost 10 years. The group sought the pictures and videos in order to complete the public record of the demise of the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington.

But the court accepted the government’s position that releasing the photos and videos would enflame al-Qaida and other extremists, possibly putting Americans at risk. It noted the effect Danish cartoons depicting Muhammad, the founder of Islam, had on radicals. The government also warned that releasing the images used to identify bin Laden through facial-recognition software could reveal intelligence sources or methods.

Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton denounced the decision as "craven" and said the group is weighing its next legal steps.

"The courts need to stop rubber-stamping this administration’s improper secrecy," Fitton said. "There is no provision in the Freedom of Information Act that allows documents to be kept secret because their release might offend our terrorist enemies."

h/t to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.



Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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