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U.S. Navy Court Filing: Information Detailing bin Laden Burial Must Be Kept Secret Because It Might Offend Terrorists Abroad

Judicial Watch Lawsuit Seeks bin Laden Burial Information

WASHINGTON, DC -- (Marketwire) -- 01/24/13 -- Judicial Watch announced today that on January 15, 2013, the United States Navy filed a motion for summary judgment on Judicial Watch's July 18, 2012, Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit seeking access to the details regarding the burial of terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden (Judicial Watch, Inc. v. Department of the Navy (No. 1:12-cv-01182)). The Obama administration argued that information related to the burial should be kept secret because it might offend terrorists abroad.

Following the May 2, 2011, Navy SEAL raid that led to bin Laden's capture and killing, the al Qaeda leader was reportedly transported by the USS Carl Vinson and buried at sea in accordance with Muslim law. Judicial Watch's FOIA lawsuit seeks "any funeral ceremony, rite, or ritual" confirming that slain terrorist Osama bin Laden was given full Islamic burial honors.

In its Motion for Summary Judgment, which, if granted by the Court, would end the lawsuit, the Navy cited a sworn declaration from Lieutenant General Curtis M. Scaparrotti, Director of the Joint Staff, who repeated the narrative that details related to the bin Laden burial could inflame tensions among terrorists:

Notwithstanding the fact that proper burial procedures were followed during bin Laden's burial at sea, al-Qa'ida would almost assuredly question the propriety of those procedures, thereby inflaming tensions among overseas populations that include al-Qa'ida members or sympathizers, encouraging propaganda by various terrorist groups or other entities hostile to the United States, and potentially leading to retaliatory attacks against the United States and its citizens both at home and abroad.

"There is simply no exemption in FOIA law that allows the government to withhold records from the American people because terrorists might be offended," said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. "First, we're told that we can't see videos or photos of the burial, now we're told we can't see written information about the burial. This attempt to rewrite FOIA law to include a 'let's not offend the terrorists' exemption is another example of the Obama administration thinking it is the law unto itself."

Judicial Watch previously uncovered 31 pages of heavily redacted emails concerning the burial, including a paragraph with previously unknown details of the bin Laden interment at sea: "Traditional procedures for Islamic burial was [sic] followed. The deceased 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 words were complete, the body was placed on a prepared flatboard, tipped up, whereupon the deceased's body slid into the sea."

The documents did not include the "prepared religious remarks" read at bin Laden's burial as specified in the Judicial Watch FOIA request. If Navy regulations were followed, the remarks likely included the exculpatory Muslim prayer, "O Allah, forgive him, have mercy on him, pardon him, grant him security, provide him a nice place and spacious lodging, wash him (off from his sins) with water, snow, and ice, purify him ... make him enter paradise and save him from the trials of grave and the punishment of hell." The emails indicated that "less than a dozen" members of military leadership were informed of the burial and that "No sailors watched."

The Navy informed Judicial Watch that they only had limited information related to the bin Laden burial due to "operational security." The Navy also stated that they were not able to locate a copy of the remarks.

Judicial Watch has contrasted the Obama administration's heavy reliance on FOIA exemptions to withhold information from the American people with its open embrace of filmmakers producing a bin Laden assault film praising the President's role in the affair. The Obama administration has admitted in separate Judicial Watch litigation that leaks of sensitive information to the producers of the film Zero Dark Thirty could cause "unnecessary security and counterintelligence risk." Disclosures forced by Judicial Watch litigation also suggest that John Brennan, President Obama's pick to head the CIA, was involved in the bin Laden raid leaks.

In a separate lawsuit against the CIA, bin Laden post-mortem photos and videos were withheld citing national security concerns.

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