Appeals Court Hears Arguments in Judicial Watch Bin Laden Photos Suit

Appeals Court Hears Arguments in Judicial Watch Bin Laden Photos Suit

On January 10, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit heard oral argument regarding Judicial Watch’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit requesting the release of dozens of images of Osama bin Laden’s body taken after he was fatally shot in a Special Forces raid in May 2011.

Judicial Watch staff attorney Michael Bekesha argued on behalf of Judicial Watch at the hearing. I was there with many of my Judicial Watch colleagues in the packed courtroom for this historic legal fight. It was quite the scene; the Obama administration sent seven lawyers to participate in the briefing. Media around the world closely covered this week’s court activity, one of our most significant battles against Obama secrecy.

JW is asking the Appeals Court to reverse an April 26, 2012, ruling by U.S. District Judge James Boasberg allowing the images to remain an Obama administration secret.

The government is hiding behind the bogus claim that JW’s request will somehow harm our national security. But we’re not after any information about equipment or techniques used in the bin Laden raid, or indeed anything that would compromise the safety and security of the country and its citizens. As our lawyers argued to the court:

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.

There is simply no legal precedent for this; President Obama is asking the courts to rewrite FOIA law to allow his administration to withhold documents simply because their disclosure may cause controversy.

Interestingly, one of the judges hearing our case yesterday said that a video caused the death of our ambassador to Libya. The court’s misimpression of what really happened (contrary to the Obama administration’s initial lies, the video had nothing to do with the Benghazi slaughter) shows that we can’t trust the Obama administration to tell us that a certain video or photo will cause harm and that the FOIA should be upended to appease terrorists.

And – again – do you see the blatant hypocrisy of the Obama administration’s opinion on this issue in light of its decision to leak apparently classified details to the filmmakers behind the new Hollywood blockbuster “Zero Dark Thirty,” which opened Friday? The film, which has elicited Oscar buzz, details the capture and killing of Osama bin Laden in incredible detail.

So, photos of a dead terrorist? Off limits to the American people. Sensitive or classified details, including the names of the military personnel involved in the bin Laden raid? Hollywood filmmakers are welcome to them, so long as the president looks good.

Judicial Watch has led the way in trying to uncover the details of Osama bin Laden’s capture and killing. We’re after the photos and videos. We’re after the details surrounding the bin Laden burial. We want to close the record on one of the American military’s most important victories. We don’t care if the president looks good or looks bad, we simply want information that the American people are entitled to under the law.

And we certainly want to get our hands on all of the details behind the Obama administration’s reckless cooperation with Bigelow and Boal, the director and writer behind “Zero Dark Thirty.”

You can click here for a full discussion of JW’s efforts to get to the truth in that scandal, but here’s the bottom line.

According to records we uncovered, the Obama White House sought to have “high visibility” in bin Laden-related projects to help the president look strong for ordering the raid that led to the terrorist’s capture and killing. White House officials helped to broker a deal to give two Hollywood filmmakers (Bigelow and Boal) unprecedented and secret access to classified details to craft an honorific film. 

White House spokesman Jay Carney denied that any classified details were handed over, but Obama administration officials have admitted under oath that the information passed on to the filmmakers could pose a serious risk to national security if disclosed to the public.

Judicial Watch has made the argument in court that the Obama administration cannot have it both ways. Either the information passed on to the filmmakers is harmless and should therefore be disclosed to the American people, or the Obama administration improperly and recklessly leaked sensitive information to the filmmakers.

Overall, Judicial Watch’s discoveries resulted in an Inspector General investigation into the whole sordid mess, resulting in a criminal referral to the Holder Justice Department.

So again, we ask which is more potentially harmful to national security: providing the American people with the photos of Osama bin Laden’s corpse or leaking classified details regarding the bin Laden raid to filmmakers?