Shortly after the White House announced that it had conducted an operation that killed terrorist leader Osama bin Laden, news organizations began clammoring for visual proof. The Associated Press, Politico and Fox News were among them, along with a host of advocacy groups.
Yesterday, National Public Radio (NPR) said it was joining the demand to see evidence of bin Laden’s death, filing a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the White House.
“Pictures of Osama bin Laden and other images from that mission would have compelling news value and public interest,” Dick Meyer, NPR’s executive editor for news, explained in a post to NPR’s news blog The Two-Way.
The matter is likely to be decided by the courts, according to activists with the First Amendment Center.
That’s because even if the news organizations refuse to sue the White House to gain access, advocacy group Judicial Watch has already said they are prepared to do just that. The group’s FOIA (PDF), filed May 2, noted that they fully intend to distribute images to the media should they be successful.
Like the AP, NPR said it had not yet decided whether it would publish materials responsive to their FOIA on bin Laden.
“I can foresee circumstances or arguments that would lead us to refrain from publishing the images if we were to get them, but NPR should be in a position to make that decision and not simply accept the government’s action,” Meyer explained.
If courts decide, as they have before, that the public interest is best served by releasing images depicting brutal violence carried out by agents of the U.S. government, the White House will have little alternative but to release them.
The only other ways federal officials could keep an image of bin Laden under wraps is to collect all information pertaining to his death and turn it over to the National Security Council, according to Dan Metcalfe, a former Department of Justice privacy officer, who spoke to the First Amendment Center.
Alternatively, the CIA could classify media of bin Laden’s corpse as “operational files,” Metcalfe said, which would qualify for a FOIA exemption.
The president has insisted that America will not use media of bin Laden’s death as a “trophy,” and polls show that about two in three Americans agree with his decision.