CIA officials do not have to release images of Osama bin Laden taken after his death at the hands of Navy Seals, a federal court ruled today, citing the likelihood that the images would provoke a terrorist attack.
“As one of the judges on this panel suggested that the Benghazi attack was caused by an Internet video, this decision is perhaps unsurprising,” Judicial Watch president Tom Fitton, whose organization filed a Freedom of Information Act request and lawsuit for the documents, said in a statement on the ruling. “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 three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the government has no obligation to release the images under the First Amendment.
“It is important to remember that this case does not involve a First Amendment challenge to an effort by the government to suppress images in the hands of private parties, a challenge that would come out quite differently,” the panelists observed.
Furthermore, the court emphasized that the government was withholding the images “not to shield wrongdoing or avoid embarrassment, but rather to prevent the killing of Americans and violence against American interests.”
Judicial Watch also argued that the CIA did not follow the legally-required process for exempting the images from the FOIA request. “The court seems to acknowledge that the images were improperly classified but gives the Obama administration a pass,” Fitton said.
The court also rejected this argument. “Judicial Watch argues that the images do not contain all of the proper classification markings because they fail to name the person with ‘original classification authority’ who first classified them,” the judges ruled. “We already have a declaration from Director Bennett, who has original classification authority, averring that he reviewed the images and determined that they were correctlyclassified Top Secret.”