WH Claims Bin Laden Burial Details Would Lead to 'Retaliatory Attacks'

WH Claims Bin Laden Burial Details Would Lead to 'Retaliatory Attacks'

The Obama administration’s hypocrisy over information related to the bin Laden raid and burial apparently knows no bounds.

Judicial Watch has battled the Obama administration for records detailing the leaking of sensitive details to the filmmakers behind Zero Dark Thirty, a movie that documents the capture and killing of Osama bin Laden. The film was recently released nationally to critical acclaim and much press interest. 

JW uncovered records showing that the Obama administration sought “high visibility” in bid Laden projects. They wanted to project Barack Obama as a strong leader in command, and cared nothing about how terrorists would react to the film.

Now contrast this approach with the administration’s handling of information (also sought by Judicial Watch) detailing the bin Laden burial at sea.

On January 15, 2013, the United States Navy filed a motion for summary judgment of our July 18, 2012, Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit seeking access to burial details. The Obama administration argued that information related to the burial should be kept secret because it might offend terrorists abroad.

Do you see the hypocrisy? The Obama administration leaks details about the raid when it suits their purpose and withholds them when it does not.

So what’s the real reason the Obama administration fears the release of the burial details? Let’s review what we know so far.

Following the May 2, 2011, Navy SEAL raid that led to bin Laden’s death, the al Qaeda leader was reportedly transported by the USS Carl Vinson and buried at sea in accordance with “Muslim law.” We wanted to know exactly what “Muslim law” dictated in this case, so we filed a FOIA lawsuit seeking access to details regarding “any funeral ceremony, rite, or ritual” confirming that the slain terrorist was given full Islamic burial honors.

And here’s what we got: 31 pages of heavily redacted emails concerning the burial, including a paragraph including previously unknown details of 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.

Now, the documents did not include the “prepared religious remarks” read at bin Laden’s burial as requested in the FOIA, a key detail, for certain.

If U.S. 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.

The emails indicated that “less than a dozen” members of military leadership were informed of the burial and that “no sailors watched.”

Clearly, the Obama administration would not want the public to know that the U.S. government prayed for bin Laden, the mastermind of a terrorist attack that led to the murders of thousands of innocents on American soil, to save him from hell and help him enter paradise. But they can’t actually say so in court, so they looked for cover in a familiar place, blaming the failure to provide the remarks and additional information related to the bin Laden burial on “operational security.”

In a separate lawsuit against the CIA, bin Laden post-mortem photos and videos were withheld citing national security concerns.

In its motion for summary judgment, which, if granted by the court, would end the lawsuit, the U.S. Navy cited a sworn declaration from Lieutenant General Curtis M. Scaparrotti, Director of the Joint Staff, who repeated the narrative that details related to the bin Laden burial could inflame tensions among terrorists:

…Notwithstanding the fact that proper burial procedures were followed during bin Laden’s burial at sea, al-Qa’ida would almost assuredly question the propriety of those procedures, thereby inflaming tensions among overseas populations that include al- Qa’ida members or sympathizers, encouraging propaganda by various terrorist groups or other entities hostile to the United States, and potentially leading to retaliatory attacks against the United States and its citizens both at home and abroad.

Am I the only person who sees echoes of “blame the Benghazi attack on a video” in this argument? But here’s another problem for the Obama administration: there is no exemption in FOIA law that allows the government to withhold records from the American people because terrorists might be offended.

So first, we were told that we could not see videos or photos of the burial, and now we are told we can’t see written information about the burial. This attempt to rewrite FOIA law to include a “let’s not offend the terrorists” exemption is another example of the Obama administration’s thinking it is the law unto itself.

JW has taken the lead in contrasting the Obama administration’s heavy reliance on FOIA exemptions to withhold information from the American people with its open embrace of filmmakers producing the bin Laden assault film that praises Obama. 

The Obama administration has admitted in other Judicial Watch litigation that leaks of sensitive information to the producers of the film Zero Dark Thirty could cause an “unnecessary security and counterintelligence risk.” 

The Obama administration can’t have it both ways. Either the information is sensitive and should not have been released, or it is not sensitive and the American people should be granted access to the same information given to the filmmakers. Importantly, disclosures forced by the Judicial Watch litigation also suggest John Brennan, President Obama’s pick to head the CIA, was involved in the bin Laden raid information leaks.

In the meantime, we will work to protect the public’s right to know in the courts. The American people have a God-given right to information about certain activities of their government – whether or not it bothers the terrorists.


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