President Barack Obama’s administration gave up 31 pages of “heavily redacted emails” related to the military’s burial of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden over the past week or so, but continues refusing to release more information about the operation and subsequent burial.
Conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch said Monday that the Obama administration has post-mortem photographs and videos of bin Laden that it refuses to release for national security reasons. The administration is also citing national security purposes for its refusal to publicly provide details about what “prepared religious remarks” the U.S. military read at the ceremony.
The information the administration did release — emails made public through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) fights from Judicial Watch and the Associated Press — describe the bin Laden internment at sea.
“Traditional procedures for Islamic burial was [sic] followed. The deceased body was washed (ablution) then placed in a white sheet,” one email reads. “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.”
Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said that Obama is refusing to release the extra details about the bin Laden burial – including the photographs, videos and the religious remarks – because he’s afraid of hurting the feelings of terrorists that have taken the helm of al-Qaida in the wake of its leader’s killing.
“These new documents confirm the honors given bin Laden at his burial, including a prayer in Arabic and ritual cleansing of his remains,” Fitton said in a statement. “But the American people still don’t have the full picture because the Obama administration is fearful of offending terrorists.”
The administration’s continued decision to withhold photographs and videos contradicts a statement by former CIA Director Leon Panetta, who has since become Obama’s secretary of defense: “I don’t think there was any question that ultimately a photograph would be presented to the public,” Panetta told NBC News shortly after the raid.
The Associated Press said it plans to appeal the Obama administration’s decision to withhold information. “Although the Obama administration has pledged to be the most transparent in American history, it is keeping a tight hold on materials related to the bin Laden raid,” the AP wrote.
Other information the AP said the Obama administration is hiding includes a death certificate for bin Laden, any autopsy reports or DNA identification tests, and any materials from before the raid that may show the government discussing how to dispose of bin Laden’s body before he was killed.
Judicial Watch argues that the new documents suggest the Obama administration had considered “preparations for receipt of bin Laden’s body” three days before the raid.
While the White House has admitted bin Laden was unarmed in his Abbottabad, Pakistan complex when U.S. Navy SEALs killed him, it has insisted that it considered taking bin Laden in alive. “If we had the opportunity to take bin Laden alive, if he didn’t present any threat, the individuals involved were able and prepared to do that,” White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan said shortly after the raid.
The administration’s public accounts of what happened during the bin Laden raid changed frequently over the days following it. At the time, White House spokesman Jay Carney attributed the inconsistencies to the fog of war. “We provided a great deal of information with great haste in order to inform you, and through you, the American public, about the operation and how it transpired and the events that took place there in Pakistan,” Carney said. “And obviously some of the information came in piece by piece and is being reviewed and updated and elaborated on.”