A three-judge federal appeals panel is considering a request by conservative legal group Judicial Watch to force the government to release photos taken of Osama Bin Laden after he was killed by U.S. Navy Seals.
Bin Laden was killed during a daring raid into Pakistan on May 2, 2011, and afterward the terrorist leader's body was photographed 52 times on board the USS Carl Vinson, according to government records cited by Michael Bekesha, an attorney with Judicial Watch. The body was given a Muslim burial and disposed of at sea, according to military records previously obtained by Judicial Watch.
The government has refused to release the photos over concerns that the release could trigger further attacks against Americans from Islamic Fundamentalists.
Arguing that the Freedom of Information Act requires the government to release the pictures, Judicial Watch is also seeking a more detailed explanation from the administration as to why the release of such photos would signify a threat to national security.
In its appeal, Judicial Watch argued that the government has "failed to provide any evidence that all 52 images, including those depicting bin Laden's burial at sea, pertain to 'foreign activities of the United States,'
"Defendants also have failed to provide any evidence that images depicting the burial at sea actually pertain to 'intelligence activities,'" the brief continued
. "Nor have they demonstrated that the release of images of a somber, dignified burial at sea reasonably could be expected to cause identifiable or describable exceptionally grave damage to national security."
The judges appeared to take issue with the claim that the White House had yet to provide an adequate reason for not releasing the photos. They pointed out several instances, including reports of Americans desecrating Qurans and photos of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq being mistreated by U.S. service personnel, as examples of what the administration was trying to avoid.
"Why should we not defer to that?" asked Judge Merrick Garland, a Bill Clinton appointee on the court. "We are told there is a risk . . . that Americans could die if the pictures are released."
In an interview with CBS News program "60 Minutes," President Barack Obama said, "It is very important for us 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 — as a propaganda tool . . . That's not who we are. You know, we don't trot out this stuff as trophies. We don't need to spike the football."
However, Obama later made taking out bin Laden a centerpiece of his re-election campaign.
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