Court considers release of bin Laden photos

WASHINGTON — The dramatic raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound plays out on the big screen this month in the movie “Zero Dark Thirty,” but the government’s actual photos of the deceased al-Qaida leader and his burial remain classified.

A federal appeals court on Thursday will consider whether the public has a right to view postmortem images of bin Laden. The lawsuit, filed by a conservative-leaning watchdog group, seeks the release of 52 photos that followed the operation in May 2011.

The government argues, and a lower court judge agreed, that the photos must be kept secret in the interest of national security. Some defense and intelligence officials express concern in court documents that the release of the images would incite violence against Americans.

In seeking to reverse the lower court ruling, the group Judicial Watch argues that the exemption the government cites to the Freedom of Information Act is too vague. The group asks the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to ensure that the exceptions “do not become sweeping exemptions.”

President Barack Obama announced the successful raid on bin Laden’s compound last May and released a description of his burial in the North Arabian Sea. Obama said at the time that photos were taken and that “facial analysis” was used to confirm bin Laden’s identity.

Obama explained in an interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes” the administration’s rationale for not releasing the photos.

“It’s 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 or as a propaganda tool,” he said. “That’s not who we are. We don’t trot out this stuff as trophies.”

Courts have generally been loath to second-guess the executive branch when it comes to classified information that has the potential to affect national security, according to lawyers who handle cases involving the disclosure of government documents.

In April, U.S. District Judge James Boasberg ruled that the images would remain secret. He wrote that he found the explanations from national security officials of the possible risk of “grave harm to our future national security is more than mere speculation. While al Qaida may not need a reason to attack us, that does not mean no risk inheres in giving it further cause to do so.”

Boasberg acknowledged that many members of the public might want to see photos related to such a significant event. But, he said, “it is not this Court’s decision to make… The CIA’s explanation of the threat to our national security passes muster.”

More in Local News

Local police join thousands honoring slain Canadian officer

Abbotsford Const. John Davidson was killed Nov. 6 in a shootout with a suspected car thief.

Hard work is paying off for Mariner High senior

Mey Ly has excelled in school since moving here from Cambodia; she also serves as an intrepreter.

Darrington School Board race might come down to a coin flip

With a one-vote difference, a single ballot in Skagit County remains to be counted.

Herald photos of the week

A weekly collection of The Herald’s best images by staff photographers and… Continue reading

No easy exit from Smokey Point shopping complex

There’s just no easy exit on this one. A reader called in… Continue reading

Lynnwood, Marysville, Sultan consider ban on safe injection sites

If approved, they would join Lake Stevens and Snohomish County, which have temporary bans.

City Council OKs initial funding for Smith Avenue parking lot

The site of the former Smith Street Mill is being developed in anticipation of light rail.

Single fingerprint on robbery note leads to arrest

The holdup occurred at a U.S. Bank branch in Lynnwood in June.

Two windsurfers rescued from Port Susan near Kayak Point

The men had failed to return to shore during Sunday’s windstorm.

Most Read