Bin Laden Burial at Sea Docs Released Thanks to FOIA

Internal emails among U.S. military officers indicate that no sailors watched Osama bin Laden’s burial at sea from the USS Carl Vinson and traditional Islamic procedures were followed during the ceremony.

The emails, obtained by The Associated Press through the Freedom of Information Act, are heavily blacked out, but are the first public disclosure of government information about the Al Qaeda leader’s death. The emails were released last week by the Defense Department.

Bin Laden was killed May 1, 2011, by a Navy SEAL team that assaulted his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

One email stamped secret and sent on May 2 by a senior Navy officer briefly describes how bin Laden’s body was washed, wrapped in a white sheet and then placed in a weighted bag.

According to another message from the Vinson’s public affairs officer, only a small group of the ship’s leadership was informed of the burial.

“Traditional procedures for Islamic burial was followed,” the May 2 email from Rear Adm. Charles Gaouette reads. “The deceased’s 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 the words were complete, the body was placed on a prepared flat board, tipped up, whereupon the deceased’s body slid into the sea.”

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. In a response to separate requests from the AP for information about the mission, the Defense Department said in March that it could not locate any photographs or video taken during the raid or showing bin Laden’s body. It also said it could not find any images of bin Laden’s body on the Vinson…

The Pentagon also said it could not find any death certificate, autopsy report or results of DNA identification tests for bin Laden, or any pre-raid materials discussing how the government planned to dispose of bin Laden’s body if he were killed.

The Defense Department also refused to confirm or deny the existence of helicopter maintenance logs and reports about the performance of military gear used in the raid. One of the stealth helicopters that carried the SEALs to Abbottabad crashed during the mission and its wreckage was left behind. People who lived near bin Laden’s compound took photos of the disabled chopper.

The AP is appealing the Defense Department’s decision. The CIA, which ran the bin Laden raid and has special legal authority to keep information from ever being made public, has not responded to AP’s request for records about the mission.

English: Osama bin Laden interviewed for Daily...

English: Osama bin Laden interviewed for Daily Pakistan in 1997; behind him on the wall is an AK-47 carbine. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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FOI at Work: As detention of immigrants grows, so do private prison profits…

A fabulous piece of FOI-driven reporting from the Associated Press:

The Associated Press, seeking to tally the scope of the private facilities, add up their cost and the amounts the companies spend on lobbying and campaign donations, reviewed more than 10 years’ worth of federal and state records. It found a complex, mutually beneficial and evidently legal relationship between those who make corrections and immigration policy and a few prison companies. Some of those companies were struggling to survive before toughened immigrant detention laws took effect.

A decade ago, just 10 percent of the beds in the nation’s civil detention system were in private facilities with little federal oversight. Now, about half the beds are part of a sprawling, private system, largely controlled by just three companies: Corrections Corporation of America, The GEO Group, and Management and Training Corp.

And the growth is far from over, despite the sheer drop in illegal immigration in recent years.

CCA was on the verge of bankruptcy in 2000 due to lawsuits, management problems and dwindling contracts. Last year, the company reaped $162 million in net income. Federal contracts made up 43 percent of its total revenues, in part thanks to rising immigrant detention.

GEO, which cites the immigration agency as its largest client, saw its net income jump from $16.9 million to $78.6 million since 2000.

At the same time, the three businesses have spent at least $45 million combined on campaign donations and lobbyists at the state and federal level in the last decade, the AP found…

 

In aftermath of Aurora mass shootings, secrecy reigns…

AURORA, CO - JULY 20:  Investigators are on th...

AURORA, CO – JULY 20: Investigators are on the scene at the Century 16 movie theatre where a gunmen attacked movie goers during an early morning screening of the new Batman movie, ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ July 20, 2012 in Aurora, Colorado. According to reports, over 10 people have been killed and over 30 injured. Police have the suspect, twenty-four year old James Holmes of North Aurora, in custody. (Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)

Tightening the secrecy over the year Colorado shooting suspect James Holmes spent studying neuroscience, a judge has barred the University of Colorado Denver from releasing any records about the former graduate student’s time there.

What happened to the 24-year-old during his time in the program at the school’s Anschutz Medical Campus is one of the many mysteries stemming from last Friday’s mass shooting at a theater in which he’s accused of killing 12 people and injuring 58 others at a midnight showing of “The Dark Knight Rises.”…

Numerous media organizations, including The Associated Press, filed open records requests for school records about Holmes after he was named as the suspect in the shooting that happened just after midnight July 20.

But in an order signed Monday and released by the school Thursday in response to an open records request by the AP, District Court Judge William Blair Sylvester said releasing information in response to requests filed under the Colorado Open Records Act would “impede an ongoing investigation.” Sylvester is overseeing the criminal case against Holmes, who is expected to appear in court Monday and be formally charged.

Mark Caramanica, freedom of information director at the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press in Arlington, Va., called the order “highly unorthodox.” He said it was unusual that a public institution would consult with an outside entity instead of just following the law and answering the request.

“It seems very premature for a court to get involved and make such a sweeping order,” Caramanica said. “It seems like a very broad and overly aggressive approach.”

 

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AP Report: Obama Administration Drowning in FOI Requests

The Obama administration couldn’t keep pace with the increasing number of people asking for copies ofgovernment documents, emails, photographs and more under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, according to a new analysis of the latest federal data by The Associated Press.

Federal agencies did better last year trying to fulfill requests, but still fell further behind with backlogs, due mostly to surges in immigration records requested from the Homeland Security Department. It released all or portions of the information that citizens, journalists, businesses and others sought — and outright rejected other requests — at about the same rate as the previous two years. The AP analyzed figures over the last three years from 37 of the largest federal departments and agencies.

There was progress: The government responded to more requests than ever in 2011 — more than 576,000 — a 5 percent increase from the year before. Offices less frequently cited legal provisions that allow them to keep records secret, especially emails and documents describing how federal officials make important decisions. Agencies took less time, on average, to turn over records: about one month for requests it considered “simple” and about three months for more complicated requests. And 23 of 37 agencies reduced their individual backlogs of requests or kept buildups from increasing.

AP: We Sent FOI Requests to 100 Countries, and All We Got Were These Lousy Denials….

The Mother of All FOI Audits is in, and the results are predictably grim. Seems wherever FOI laws are passed, age-old stonewalling tactics quickly set in and mire the process.

A couple of nice nuggets from the complete story:

The promise is magnificent: More than 5.3 billion people in more than 100 countries now have the right – on paper – to know the truth about what their government is doing behind closed doors. Such laws have spread rapidly over the past decade, and when they work, they present a powerful way to engage citizens and expose corruption.

However, more than half the countries with such laws do not follow them, The Associated Press found in the first worldwide test of this promised freedom of information. And even when some countries do follow the law, the information unearthed can be at best useless and at worst deadly.

Right-to-know laws reflect a basic belief that information is power and belongs to the public. In a single week in January, AP reporters tested this premise by submitting questions about terrorism arrests and convictions, vetted by experts, to the European Union and the 105 countries with right-to-know laws or constitutional provisions.

AP also interviewed more than 100 experts worldwide and reviewed hundreds of studies.

Among its findings:

- Only 14 countries answered in full within their legal deadline. Another 38 countries eventually answered most questions, at least providing data.

- Newer democracies were in general more responsive than some developed ones. Guatemala confirmed the AP request in 72 hours, and sent all documents in 10 days. Turkey sent spreadsheets and data within seven days. Mexico posted responses on the Web. By comparison, Canada asked for a 200-day extension. The FBI in the United States responded six months late with a single sheet with four dates, two words and a large section blanked. Austria never responded at all.

- More than half the countries did not release anything, and three out of 10 did not even acknowledge the request. African governments led the world for ignoring requests, with no response whatsoever from 11 out of 15 countries.

- Dozens of countries adopted their laws at least in part because of financial incentives, and so are more likely to ignore them or limit their impact. China changed its access-to-information rules as a condition to joining the World Trade Organization in 2001, to boost the economy by as much as 10 percent. Beijing has since expanded the rules beyond trade matters. Pakistan adopted its 2002 ordinance in return for $1.4 billion in aid from the International Monetary Fund. Neither country responded to the AP’s test.

“Having a law that’s not being obeyed is almost worse than not having a law at all,” says Daniel Metcalf, the leading U.S. Freedom of Information authority at the Justice Department for the past 25 years, now a law professor at American University. “The entire credibility of a government is at stake.”

And this one:

Image representing Associated Press as depicte...

Image via CrunchBase

 

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Add One More to the Osama FOI Derby…

A still of 2004 Osama bin Laden video

Image via Wikipedia

Two updates on the Osama Bin Laden FOIA requests, courtesy of The Atlantic Wire, which is covering the heck out of the issue, by the way…NPR is filing…and here is the AP’s stance on why it filed. Good stuff here.

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More on the Osama Bin Laden pics…

Hamid Mir interviewing Osama bin Laden for Dai...

Image via Wikipedia

The AP has joined the fray:

The US government may be forced to release photographs of Osama bin Laden‘s body after the Associated Press news agency lodged a request under the Freedom of Information Act asking to see them. The request, which was lodged on Monday, also asks for video taken by military personnel during the raid and on the USS Carl Vinson, the ship that conducted Bin Laden’s burial in the North Arabian Sea.

The Obama administration decided not to publish pictures of Bin Laden, with the president warning it could inflame tensions and the case could end up in court. The government has 20 days to respond to the request.

“I think it’s going to be a hard road,” said Scott Hodes, a former Freedom of Information and Privacy Act lawyer at the justice department.

Meanwhile, the St. Pete Times has provided the strongest editorial argument in favor of release:

Details of the courageous raid on the walled compound in Pakistan where bin Laden was hiding already have been released, and the administration promptly corrected its initial description. There is little doubt throughout the world that bin Laden has been killed, and it seems unlikely that photos of bin Laden’s body could further inflame animosity against the United States among al-Qaida members and others with such hatred toward democracy and freedom. The photographs of the corpse might serve as a clearer message that the United States remains committed to fighting terrorism and that there will be consequences for killing innocents like those Americans who lost their lives in the 9/11 attacks.

A veteran war reporter worries that withholding the photos could infantilize the nation when it comes to the realities of war:

I understand and support President Obama’s decision not to release the bloody images of Osama bin Laden, for valid fear of fanning flames, but I do think it’s a slippery slope from national security concerns to the infantilization of a nation. President Bush, by not allowing photos of dead American soldiers coming home for burial, acted no better than a Soviet apparatchik. That these newly released amateur photos crudely shot with a flash, of unidentified bodies littering the blood-covered floor of Osama’s compound have come to light through Reuters I find not only historically refreshing but journalistically vital, perhaps even an adolescent-to-adult turning point in the way we, as a nation, perceive war.

To stare at the toy gun, half-hidden behind one of the men’s shoulders, in a thick pool of blood crisscrossed with what looks like a couple of USB cords, is to stare into both the absurdity and utter mundanity of hatred and violence. Lest we forget, this was once a man, and maybe that fluorescent green gun belonged to his child, or maybe it belonged to someone else’s child who wiled away his days in that fortress of madness, and maybe the dead man was a really bad guy who deserved to die, or maybe he was just the guy there to fix the computer. We’ll never know, but the image forces us to construct a narrative, to ponder the effects of conflict and death on future generations, to see the face of death up close and personal so that maybe when we find ourselves slipping into jingoistic shouts of “USA! USA!” it might give us pause and see the raid on Osama’s compound for what it was: the long-awaited bitter beginning, one hopes, to the end of a sustained and brutal war.

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