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Judicial Watch: “The opinion is craven, absurd, and undermines the rule of law.

The court’s interpretation would allow terrorists to dictate our laws.”

(Washington, DC) – Judicial Watch, the public interest group that investigates and prosecutes government corruption, today criticized a ruling by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia affirming a U.S. District Court decision allowing the Department of Defense (DOD) and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to withhold 59 images from the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound and the terrorist mastermind’s burial at sea (Judicial Watch v. U.S. Dept. of Defense and Central Intelligence Agency (No. 12-5137)).  Judicial Watch president Tom Fitton issued the following statement reacting to today’s ruling:

“The opinion is craven, absurd, and undermines the rule of law.  The court seems to acknowledge that the images were improperly classified but gives the Obama administration a pass. The court’s interpretation would allow terrorists to dictate our laws. Americans’ fundamental right to access government information and, frankly, the First Amendment are implicated in this ruling.  As one of the judges on this panel suggested that the Benghazi attack was caused by an Internet video, this decision is perhaps unsurprising.  The courts need to stop rubberstamping this administration’s improper secrecy.  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.  Our lawyers are considering our next legal steps.”

The Appeals Court decision upheld an April 26, 2012, ruling by the District Court denying a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by Judicial Watch 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.”

While ruling against Judicial Watch, U.S. District Court Judge James Boasberg had conceded, “Indeed, it makes sense that the more significant an event is to our nation – and the end of bin Laden’s reign of terror certainly ranks high – the more need the public has for full disclosure.”

Judicial Watch on May 25, 2012 launched an investigation into the military’s response to sequestration, which entailed 600  billion dollars of automatic spending cuts to the Pentagon budget slated to take effect in January 2013.  Judicial Watch’s investigation was prompted by a report in the Washington Times that military planners had been ordered not to develop a contingency strategy for operating in the event sequestration took place in order to force Congress into repealing the budget-balancing measure.  The Washington Times further reported that, despite an order not to make sequestration plans, the military had formed secret cells to plan covertly for such a contingency.

In support of its investigation, Judicial Watch filed public records requests pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. § 552, with the Offices of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) and Inspector General (DOD-IG), as well as the Departments of Defense, Army, Navy, Air Force, and Joint Chiefs seeking:

All communications from January 1, 2012 through the date of the request respecting sequestration, including whether to develop contingency plans at all and, if so, to do so covertly.

The deadline for responding was June 25, 2012.  No agency timely complied with the law governing this transaction. OSD produced 10 pages’ worth of responsive documents consisting entirely of congressional correspondence.

As for the rest:

  • DOD-IG on June 19, 2012 denied Judicial Watch’s request for a public interest fee waiver, which Judicial Watch appealed on June 22, 2012.  DOD-IG never issued a determination of Judicial Watch’s fee appeal, nor addressed the substantive request itself.
  • The Army on January 15, 2013 affirmed its total denial of records, claiming that the agency conducted a legally adequate search and that all six (6) responsive documents located were privileged and, therefore, entirely exempt from compulsory disclosure.
  • The Navy on November 27, 2012 denied Judicial Watch’s request for a public interest fee waiver but never went on to address the substantive request.
  • The Air Force on August 22, 2012 asked for an extension in deciding Judicial Watch’s appeal of the agency’s initial “no records” response.  As of April 8, 2013, Judicial Watch has heard nothing more from this agency either.

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