Judicial Watch Asks Court to Order Release of bin Laden Funeral, Burial Documents

“The necessity of conducting the global war on terror should not render the U.S. government so afraid of its own shadow that it refuses to release truthful information to the American people when required by FOIA.”

This was an argument Judicial Watch made in a key motion filed on July 11, 2013, with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Judicial Watch continues its pursuit of records related to the burial of terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden.

Specifically, Judicial Watch’s legal team filed the motion (a “Memorandum of Law in Opposition to Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment and in Support of Plaintiff’s Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment”) against the Department of the Navy, challenging the withholding of information relating to “descriptions of the actual funeral and burial of bin Laden.”

This latest legal filing is part of our ongoing Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the Department of Defense (DOD) and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) seeking “all photographs and/or video recordings of Osama (Usama) bin Laden taken during and/or after the U.S. military operation in Pakistan on or about May 1, 2011.”

As you recall, the Obama administration is hiding behind the claim of national security in keeping these records secret.

The DOD claims that releasing the information could harm national security by (1) providing the nation’s adversaries with “information they could use to thwart future sensitive military operation, and (2) inciting al-Qaida members to attack United States citizens.”

As you might expect, we find that explanation unacceptable and without legal basis.

In the first place, as we argued in our court filing, JW “seeks only descriptions of the burial and funeral, and not any sensitive military information which could be used to thwart possible future military operation.” 

And with respect to this “don’t offend the terrorists” provision the administration created out of thin air to keep JW from accessing images of the deceased bin Laden, JW argues that the burial descriptions “cannot be withheld under the D.C. Circuit Court’s recently announced ‘inciting violence’ test in Judicial Watch v. DoD.”

That test, which arose in our case disputing the withholding of images of the deceased bin Laden, required the government to present evidence of a “reasonably analogous” situation in which release of information incited violence in the past. In this particular lawsuit, we are not after images, we are after mere descriptions of the funeral and the Obama administration has no such analogous situation to draw upon in keeping this information under lock and key.

While I do not know if the terrorists would be offended by this information (and, as I say, it is irrelevant), I suspect the American people might be.

As you may recall, we previously uncovered 31 pages of material concerning the burial, including a paragraph with previously unknown details of the bin Laden internment 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.

Those records did not include the “prepared religious remarks” read at bin Laden’s burial as specified in the JW Freedom of Information (FOIA) request. However, if Navy regulations were followed, the remarks likely included the exculpatory 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.”

A ceremony where the American government prayed for the soul of one of the world’s most despicable and hateful terrorists might help explain why we have had to fight so hard for these records, which remain secret, courtesy of a couple of court rulings.

JW filed its original FOIA lawsuit against the DOD and CIA on May 13, 2011. On April 26, 2012, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia blocked access to the materials requested in a decision that was affirmed by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia on May 21, 2013.

The Obama administration’s unprecedented stonewalling on basic information about the bin Laden operation makes a mockery of President Obama’s promises of transparency. And the courts should not rubberstamp this continuing denial of the American people’s right to access government information.

There is no provision of the Freedom of Information Act that allows documents to be kept secret because their release might offend our terrorist enemies (or the American people back home for that matter).


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