A US appeals court ruled Tuesday that the federal government is not required to release photos that were taken of Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden after he was killed by special forces.
The Al-Qaeda leader was slain at his Pakistani compound in May 2011 by US Navy SEAL commandos, who took pictures of their target’s corpse in order to confirm the success of their mission.
In a 14 page opinion, the judges wrote that The Central Intelligence Agency had refused to release the photos “on the ground that the images were classified Top Secret.
“We affirm because the images were properly classified and hence are exempt from disclosure,” they ruled.
A conservative watchdog group, Judicial Watch, had sued the CIA after the spy agency refused a request it had made under the US Freedom of Information Act that all post-mortem images of Bin Laden be made public.
The CIA claimed the images were exempt because their release would pose a national security risk.
The agency said the images were graphic and gruesome and, as the judges recounted in their ruling, “if disclosed, they could be expected to lead to retaliatory attacks against Americans.”
Judicial Watch argued the CIA failed to follow proper procedure in classifying the documents, only taking steps after the FOIA request was filed, and that the agency failed to justify the national security risk posed.
But a lower court agreed with the CIA and the appeals court concurred.
“The CIA’s declarations give reason to believe that releasing the images of American military personnel burying the founder and leader of al Qaeda could cause exceptionally grave harm,” the judges wrote.
The CIA had cited as similar cases deadly riots that followed the publication of a Danish cartoon of mocking the Prophet Mohammed and an erroneous report in Newsweek magazine of US soldiers desecrating the Koran.
The head of US special operations, Admiral William McRaven, had also argued certain images could allow members of the team that carried out the raid to be identified and others could reveal classified tactics used in the operation.
Although such predictions are always “speculative to some extent,” the CIA met its burden of showing they are “‘logical’ or ‘plausible,’” the court said.