Judicial Watch Lawsuit Forces Release of bin Laden Burial Records from United States Navy
Heavily Redacted Documents in Response to JW FOIA Raise Further Questions about Obama Administration ‘Stonewalling’
(Washington, DC) – Judicial Watch announced today that it has obtained bin Laden burial records from the United States Navy as a result of its July 18, 2012, Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit seeking “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 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.
The documents did not include the “prepared religious remarks” read at bin Laden’s burial as requested in the JW FOIA. 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.” 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.” The emails indicated that “less than a dozen” members of military leadership were informed of the burial and that “No sailors watched.”
The U.S. Navy blamed the failure to provide the remarks and additional information related to the bin Laden burial on operational security: “The paucity of documentary evidence in our possession is a reflection of the emphasis placed upon operational security during the execution of this phase of the operation.” 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.
“These new documents confirm the honors given bin Laden at his burial, including a prayer in Arabic and ritual cleansing of his remains,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “But the American people still don’t have the full picture because the Obama administration is fearful of offending terrorists.”
The documents supplied to Judicial Watch by the U.S. Navy also failed to include the bin Laden post-mortem photos and videos as requested in its FOIA request. The Obama administration continues to withhold these records citing national security concerns.
Judicial Watch contrasted the Obama administration’s heavy reliance on FOIA exemptions to withhold information from the American people with its open embrace of filmmakers producing a bin Laden assault film that, at the time, was expected to praise the president’s role in the affair. In response to an earlier JW FOIA request, the Obama administration has admitted that its revelations of sensitive information to the producers of the soon-to-be-released film Zero Dark Thirty could cause “unnecessary security and counterintelligence risk.”