Judicial Watch Lawsuit Forces Release of bin Laden Burial Records

The Obama administration has no problem releasing classified secrets to the public if they believe it will make them look good or serve the liberal agenda. But if the administration believes it would be embarrassed by a certain disclosure, it is held tightly under lock and key.

We saw this when the Obama administration went against the recommendations of senior intelligence officials and selectively released details regarding “enhanced interrogation techniques” (the so-called torture memos), while withholding information showing the effectiveness of these techniques. Judicial Watch ultimately obtained these records and set the public record straight.

And we’re seeing it again now with the capture and killing of Osama bin Laden.

In response to a JW Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, the Obama administration admitted that its revelations of sensitive information to the producers of the bin Laden film "Zero Dark Thirty" could cause “unnecessary security and counterintelligence risks.” This runs counter to public pronouncements from, among many others, White House spokesman Jay Carney.

And why take such a risk? Because the Obama administration was under the impression that the film was going to help President Obama look “gutsy” with respect to his role in bin Laden’s capture and killing. The film was originally slated for release just before the 2012 elections.

But now the Obama administration is fighting Judicial Watch in court to keep secret the details surrounding bin Laden’s burial at sea. Why? Because, one might surmise, the details of bin Laden’s burial might be a great source of embarrassment for the administration.

We recently obtained bin Laden burial records from the United States Navy as a result of a July 18, 2012, FOIA lawsuit that sought “any funeral ceremony, rite, or ritual” confirming that the slain terrorist was given full Islamic burial honors. Following the May 2, 2011, Navy SEAL raid that led to bin Laden’s capture and killing, the al Qaeda leader was reportedly transported by the USS Carl Vinson and buried at sea in accordance with Muslim law.

The new documents we uncovered confirm the honors given bin Laden at his burial, including a prayer in Arabic and ritual cleansing of his remains, but the American people still don’t have the full picture because the Obama administration is fearful of offending terrorists.

Let me explain. First let’s discuss the burial itself.

The documents, including 31 pages of heavily redacted emails, contain a paragraph describing the bin Laden interment at sea:

Traditional procedures for Islamic burial was [sic] followed. The deceased body was washed (ablution) then placed in a white sheet. The body was placed in a weighted bag. A military officer read prepared religious remarks, which were translated into Arabic by a native speaker. After words were complete, the body was placed on a prepared flatboard, tipped up, whereupon the deceased’s body slid into the sea.

What the documents did not include were the “prepared religious remarks” read at bin Laden’s burial as sought in the JW FOIA request. The U.S. Navy told JW, in a letter accompanying the documents, that a search did not produce any documents in response to the request for the “remarks.”

However, if U.S. Navy regulations were followed, the remarks could have included the Muslim prayer, “O Allah, forgive him, have mercy on him, pardon him, grant him security, provide him a nice place and spacious lodging, wash him (off from his sins) with water, snow, and ice, purify him … make him enter paradise and save him from the trials of grave and the punishment of hell.”

I can imagine that this prayer might upset more than a few Americans. 

And that’s likely why we see the secrecy. The emails indicate that “less than a dozen” members of military leadership on board were informed of the burial and that “no sailors watched.”

The Obama administration continues to withhold bin Laden burial documents under the “foreign policy” exemption in FOIA law, which protects information relating to national security and defense. President Obama has said publicly he does not want to release information pertaining to bin Laden’s capture and killing for fear of offending radical Islamists.

The documents suggest that preparations for receipt of bin Laden’s body were considered three days before the raid, which as Catherine Herridge at Fox News notes, “raises an interesting question over whether the administration’s statement that it was first and foremost a capture mission was accurate.” Judicial Watch’s release of these records garnered international headlines.

The documents supplied to Judicial Watch by the U.S. Navy also failed to include the bin Laden post-mortem photos and videos as sought in a separate FOIA request. The Obama administration continues to withhold these records citing national security concerns.

The two cases present quite a contrast. On the one hand, the Obama administration relies heavily on FOIA exemptions to withhold information from the American people, while at the same time openly embracing filmmakers producing a bin Laden assault film that, at the time, was expected to praise the president’s role in the affair.

We don’t care whether the president looks good or bad. And we’re not after any details that would compromise the security of our men and women in uniform. We just want the truth so we can complete the public record on one of the most significant military operations (and successes) in United States history.


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