A recently released email shows that the top special operations officer for the U.S. military sought to keep the public from seeing photos of Osama bin Laden’s dead body.
The email was obtained by the conservative legal group, Judicial Watch, through a Freedom of Information Act request. The email was drafted on May 13, 2011 by Admiral William McRaven, head of the U.S. Special Operations Command. Ten days earlier the Associated Press had requested photos of bin Laden’s body following the May 2 raid on his Pakistan compound where the Al Qaeda leader was killed.
On May 4, the AP received acknowledgement from the command’s FOIA office that the request had been received and was being processed. They never received any photos.
McRaven’s heavily redacted email told subordinates: "One particular item that I want to emphasize is photos; particularly UBLs remains. At this point - all photos should have been turned over to the CIA; if you still have them destroy them immediately or get them.” UBL, is the command’s abbreviation for Osama bin Laden.
The email raises concerns because Special Operations Command is supposed to comply with records management rules established by the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Its July 2012 manual requires that records regarding military operations are to be considered permanent and considered for declassification after 25 years. Furthermore, under the Federal Records Act, an agency who receives a freedom of information request is expected to preserve the material requested, even if the agency eventually denies the request.
The email’s existence first surfaced in a 2011 draft report by the Pentagon’s inspector general. That report was focused on helping filmmakers working on the film “Zero Dark Thirty.” The 2012 film told the story of the raid that killed bin Laden. Mention of the email was not in the final report.
Judicial Watch eventually obtained a copy of the email on June 7, 2013 as the result of a FOIA request and subsequent lawsuit against the Defense Department.
“The McRaven ‘destroy them immediately’ email is a smoking gun, revealing both contempt for the rule of law and the American people’s right to know,” Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said in a statement. “The Obama administration has tried to cover this scandal up – and our lawsuit exposed it. We demand further investigation of the effort to destroy documents about the bin Laden raid.”