Three judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit unanimously ruled today that the U.S. government can keep death photos of Osama bin Laden secret. There are apparently over fifty of them.
Bin Laden was killed on May 2nd, 2011 and President Barack Obama revealed shortly thereafter that the death photos would not be released.
“The risks of release outweigh the benefits,” Obama said at the time. “Conspiracy theorists around the world will just claim the photos are doctored anyway, and there is a real risk that releasing the photos will only serve to inflame public opinion in the Middle East.”
“Imagine how the American people would react if Al Qaida killed one of our troops or military leaders, and put photos of the body on the internet,” he added. “Osama bin Laden is not a trophy – he is dead and let’s now focus on continuing the fight until Al Qaida has been eliminated.”
In January, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit heard oral arguments in the case, which stems from a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request made by the group Judicial Watch. The group appealed the decision of a U.S. District court, which ruled that the images could harm national security. The group had said in a brief:
Specifically, Defendants have 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.” 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 U.S. Justice department said there were obvious “sensitivities” with the situation, and that releasing the images could lead to violence against Americans.
Reuters reports that the court ruled today that the risk of violence is indeed a justification to keep the images classified.
There are some fakes out there, however, easily found with a Google image search.