A Washington federal judge today refused to order the government to publicly disclose any photos or videos of the death and burial of Osama bin Laden.
The Central Intelligence Agency's claim that release of any photos or videos could harm the national security “passes muster,” U.S. District Judge James Boasberg said in a ruling today.
“A picture may be worth a thousand words. And perhaps moving pictures bear an even higher value,” Boasberg said. “Yet, in this case, verbal descriptions of the death and burial of Osama Bin Laden will have to suffice, for this court will not order the release of anything more.”
Boasberg ruled in a Freedom of Information Act suit that the non-profit Judicial Watch filed against the U.S. Department of Defense and other federal agencies.
Judicial Watch asked the Obama administration to release images of the death of bin Laden on May 2, a day after the president announced the Sept. 11 mastermind had been killed in a U.S.-led raid in Pakistan.
The CIA withheld 52 records in response to the FOIA request, Boasberg said. The records the CIA identified, Boasberg said, were classified properly and exempt from public disclosure.
“The court declines plaintiff’s invitation to substitute its own judgment about the national-security risks inherent in releasing these records for that of the executive-branch officials who determined that they should be classified,” Boasberg said.
A Judicial Watch lawyer, Michael Bekesha, was not immediately reached for comment this evening. Judicial Watch filed a notice of appeal minutes after Boasberg published his ruling. The notice pushes the dispute to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, said this evening: "I can't think of any precedent that would allow the withholding of materials on national security grounds because it might offend someone abroad. It's unprecedented."
Boasberg said he is “mindful that many members of the public would likely desire to see images of this seminal event.” The more significant an event, the judge said, the greater the need the public has for full disclosure.
“Yet, it is not this Court’s decision to make in the first instance,” Boasberg said. “In the end, while this may not be the result Plaintiff or certain members of the public would prefer, the CIA’s explanation of the threat to our national security that the release of these records could cause passes muster.”