All bin Laden images not possessed by the Central Intelligence Agency were destroyed
within days of the terrorist’s deaths by order of Admiral William McRaven, according to an email obtained by the conservative-leaning legal group Judicial Watch
On May 13, 2011, 11 days after Navy SEAL Team 6 killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan
, McRaven emailed subordinates and ordered them to destroy any and all photographs of the al-Qaida founder's corpse or turn them over to the CIA.
The heavily redacted email released on Monday by Judicial Watch was the first evidence showing the actual order from McRaven. A draft report by the Pentagon's inspector general first disclosed McRaven's secret order, but the reference was not contained in the inspector general's final report, the Associated Press reported
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In the email McRaven tells his unnamed subordinates "one particular item that I want to emphasize is photos; particularly UBLs [bin Laden] remains. At this point - all photos should have been turned over to the CIA; if you still have them destroy them immediately or get them [to]" a blacked-out location.
McRaven’s order to have all bin Laden photographs destroyed or turned over to the CIA came just 10 days after the AP had requested the photos and other documents under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Typically government agencies are obliged to preserve the documents that are requested even if the request is alter denied, the AP noted.
On Feb. 29, 2012, the Department of Defense FOIA office told the AP that it could not find any emails from McRaven about the bin Laden material in question.
Judicial Watch president Tom Fitton on Monday described the email as "a smoking gun, revealing both contempt for the rule of law and the American people's right to know."
President Barack Obama in the months following the bin Laden raid opposed releasing the photographs of the dead al-Qaida mastermind, fearing they could stir up anti-American sentiment and provoke violence throughout the Islamic world.
"It is important to make sure that very graphic photos of somebody who was shot in the head are not floating around as an incitement to additional violence or as a propaganda tool," the president told CBS’ "60 Minutes" in May 2011.
"We don't trot out this stuff as trophies," Obama added. "The fact of the matter is, this is somebody who was deserving of the justice that he received."
Despite his trophy-reference Obama repeatedly reminded the American people of bin Laden killing under his watch during his 2012 reelection campaign in the preceding months.
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Fitton disagreed with Obama’s argument, writing on Judicial Watch’s website: "Americans' right to know about what their government is up to should be circumscribed because we don't want to offend terrorists and their sympathizers? That to me is unbelievable."
"This is a historic raid. People have a right to this information," Fitton concluded.
The bin Laden photos have yet to be released by the CIA, with the courts to date having sided with the administration, while the Supreme Court has declined to hear the organization's appeal, CNN reported
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