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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Judicial Watch sues Navy over bin Laden burial records

Osama bin Laden is swimming with the fishes, and Judicial Watch wants to know precisely what happened before he was dumped in the ocean…

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: Documents Show Administration Coddling Filmmakers

Film director Kathryn Bigelow after a showing ...

Film director Kathryn Bigelow after a showing of her film The Hurt Locker, 2009 Seattle International Film Festival. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This has all the makings of a TV movie

In the months after the U.S. military mission that killed Osama bin LadenPentagon officials met with Hollywood filmmakers and gave them special access in an effort to influence the creation of a film about the operation, newly released documents show.

Emails and meeting transcripts obtained from the Pentagon and CIA through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by the watchdog group Judicial Watch suggest that officials went out of their way to assist the filmmakers, while trying to avoid the public learning of their cooperation.

Director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal, who won Oscars for their 2009 Iraq war movie, “The Hurt Locker,” were granted access to a Navy SEAL who was involved in planning the May 2011 raid, according to a transcript of a meeting that took place in July.

“The only thing we ask is that you not reveal his name in any way as a consultant because … he shouldn’t be talking out of school,” Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Michael Vickers told the filmmakers. Vickers later added: “This at least gives him one step removed and he knows what he can and can’t say, but this way at least he can be as open as he can with you and it ought to meet your needs.”

The name of the “planner, SEAL Team 6 Operator and Commander,” was redacted from the documents that were provided to Judicial Watch. A Pentagon spokesman told Politico that the identity of “a planner, not a member of SEAL Team 6,” was provided “as a possible point of contact for additional information if the DoD determined that additional support was merited.”

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Think Finding bin Laden was tough? Try finding the records!

A really interesting piece

English: Osama bin Laden interviewed for Daily...

Image via Wikipedia

from the AP on the hunt for bin Laden…and the hunt for bin Laden records…

The hunt for Osama bin Laden took nearly a decade. It could take even longer to uncover U.S. government emails, planning reports, photographs and more that would shed light on how an elite team of Navy SEALs killed the world’s most wanted terrorist.

Ten months after that electrifying covert mission, an administrationthat has pledged to be the most transparent in American history is refusing to release documents about it under the Freedom of Information Act. The records could provide insights into how bin Laden died, how the U.S. verified his identity and how it decided to bury him at sea, as well as photographs taken during and after the May 2011 raid on his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

Government officials have openly discussed details of the mission in speeches, interviews and television appearances, but the administration won’t disclose records that would confirm their narrative of that fateful night. The Obama administration has not said even where in Washington’s bureaucracy all the documents might be stored.

And then this little gem:

Citing the law, The Associated Press asked for files about the raid in more than 20 separate requests, mostly submitted the day after bin Laden’s death. The Pentagon told the AP this month 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 Navy aircraft carrier where the al-Qaida leader’s body was taken.

The Pentagon 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. It said it searched files at the Pentagon, U.S. Special Operations Command in Tampa, Fla., and the Navy command in San Diego that controls the USS Carl Vinson, the aircraft carrier used in the mission.

The Defense Department told the AP in late February it could not find any emails about the bin Laden mission or his “Geronimo” code name that were sent or received in the year before the raid by William McRaven, the three-star admiral at the Joint Special Operations Command who organized and oversaw the mission. It also could not find any emails from other senior officers who would have been involved in the mission’s planning. It found only three such emails written by or sent to then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and these consisted of 12 pages sent to Gates summarizing news reports after the raid.

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We Need Secrecy for Drones, So We Need Secrecy For…

The Justice Department has a new legal argument for why the government should be allowed to conceal the postmortem photographs of Osama bin Laden: It’s doing the same thing with the CIA’s classified drone program.

On Wednesday, the department filed court papers [PDF] asking a federal judge to rule against the government watchdog group Judicial Watch, which is suing for the release of “all photographs and/or video recordings” taken of bin Laden during the May 1, 2011 raid in Abbottabad. The filing rehashes many of the government’s stated reasons for concealing the photographs (inciting violence in the Muslim world, revealing classified “operational methods,” etc) but also leans on the CIA’s refusal to acknowledge its widely-publicized drone program.

The argument confronts a claim by Judicial Watch that releasing the bin Laden photos would not pose a national security risk because everyone already knows the U.S. killed bin Laden. In response, the Justice Department says the CIA’s drone program, like the U.S. raid in Abbottabad, is also public knowledge but that doesn’t mean releasing information about it wouldn’t jeopardize national security.

“The fact that the public may already speak freely of the existence of drones, or speculate openly that such a program may be directed in part or in whole by the CIA, does not emasculate the CIA’s warnings of harm were it forced to acknowledge officially the existence or nonexistence of requested records,” reads the filing.

It’s the sort of argument that makes government transparency advocates squeamish. As The New York Times noted about the CIA’s failure to acknowledge the drone program in October, “The secrecy compulsion often merely makes the government look silly … But it can also hinder public debate of some of government’s most hotly contested actions.” Now, turns out, the Justice Department is using the government’s much-pilloried refusal to acknowledge the widely-known drone program to justify its withholding of the bin Laden photos, creating a kind of slippery slope of secrecy.

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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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The Osama FOI Scorecard, As Far As We Know…

A still of 2004 Osama bin Laden video

Image via Wikipedia

A nice blog post by the Atlantic lists the known FOI requests for the Osama bin Laden pics. It would be interesting, in a few months, to FOIA the FOI log and see the final tally….

Thus far, it looks like the AP, Politico, Fox News (maybe), Judicial Watch and Citizens United. Interesting bedfellows….

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On Obama’s Decision Not to Release the Osama Photos…

Hamid Mir interviewing Osama bin Laden for Dai...

Image via Wikipedia

I read, then re-read, then re-read that headline, to make sure I didn’t transpose the names like Fox…

Anyway, Obama has made his call: he is not releasing the Bin Laden photos, not voluntarily, anyway. His reasoning is hard to argue with, at first blush.

In explaining his choice not to release the photo, Mr. Obama said that “we don’t need to spike the football.” He said that “given the graphic nature of these photos it would create a national security risk.”

Speculative? Yes. Does the United States government have a less-than-stellar record when it comes to the transparency of certain newsworthy military engagements (see, Lynch, Jessica; also Tillman Pat…)

Anyway, unless he seeks another one-off FOI exemption like he did for the second batch of Abu Ghraib photos, this FOI request might force his hand.
Read more: http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-503544_162-20059739-503544.html#ixzz1LPkdbFZG

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