Judicial Watch Sues Department of Defense for Records of Communications Relating to May 2011 FOIA Request for bin Laden Death Photos
JULY 24, 2014
(Washington D.C.) – Judicial Watch announced today that on June 17, 2014, it filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the United States Department of Defense (DOD) to obtain records of communications relating to its May 2, 2011, FOIA request for bin Laden death photographs and videos (Judicial Watch v U.S. Department of Defense (No. 1:14-cv-01027)).
Judicial Watch filed its lawsuit in accordance with a June 7, 2013, FOIA request seeking the following:
All records of communications concerning, regarding, or relating to a FOIA request (Control No. 11-F-0931) dated May 2, 2011, filed by Judicial Watch with the DOD office of Freedom of Information (OFOI). The time frame for this request is May 2, 2011, to September 26, 2011.
On May 2, 2011, Judicial Watch filed a FOIA request with the DOD 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.” An identical request had been filed with the CIA. When neither the DOD nor the CIA complied with the FOIA requests within the 20 business days required by law, Judicial Watch, in June, 2011, filed FOIA lawsuits against both agencies.
On April 26, 2012, U.S. District Court Judge James Boasberg ruled that the images could remain secret while conceding, “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.” On May 21, 2013, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia affirmed the District Court decision while conceding that the documents may not have been properly classified.
Judicial Watch subsequently filed a certiorari petition on August 19, 2013, with the Supreme Court of the United States asking it to review the Appeals Court ruling. On November 21, 2013, the DOD and CIA filed an opposition brief asking the Court to deny the petition for a writ of certiorari, and Judicial Watch followed with its reply brief on December 3.
In addition to the actions seeking the bin Laden death photos, on September 5, 2013, Judicial Watch filed a FOIA lawsuit against the DOD for records relating to a 2011 directive by U.S. Special Operations Commander Admiral William McRaven to purge the department’s systems of all records relating to the Navy SEAL raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound (Judicial Watch v. U.S. Dept. of Defense(No. 1:13-cv-01343)). McRaven directed that the materials be transferred to the CIA, where they could be shielded from FOIA requests. Earlier this year, Judicial Watch received documents from the Department of Defense (Pentagon) revealing that, within hours of its filing a May 13, 2011, FOIA lawsuit seeking photos of the deceased Osama bin Laden, U.S. Special Operations Commander, Admiral William McRaven permitted his subordinates via email to “destroy” any photos they may have had “immediately.” Judicial Watch had filed a FOIA request for the photos 11 days earlier. The McRaven email, addressed to “Gentlemen,” instructs:
One particular item that I want to emphasize is photos; particularly UBLs remains. At this point – all photos should have been turned over to the CIA; if you still have them destroy them immediatelyor get them to the [redacted].
“We have assiduously pursued the Obama administration for the bin Laden death photos for more than three years, and we are not about to stop now,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “President Obama’s decision not to release the bin Laden photos is at odds with his promises to make his administration the most transparent in history. And we just want the truth so we can complete the public record on one of the most significant military operations (and successes) in United States history. We are concerned that the Pentagon, as this administration has repeatedly done, has destroyed documents or played other games in order to deceive the public and the courts. The fact that we have to file a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit about our Freedom of Information Act lawsuit shows just how insane this administration is when it comes to secrecy.”