Judicial Watch Sues for Bin Laden Death Photo

By Cynthia Hsu, Esq. on May 18, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Conservative group Judicial Watch has filed the first lawsuit against the U.S. government asking for the release of the Bin Laden photos.

The lawsuit follows the group's Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, which it sent to the Department of Defense. The Department of Defense denied Judicial Watch's FOIA request on May 9th.

In its denial, the Department of Defense stated that the 20-day statutory time limitation on providing the requested information would be impossible to comply with - even given the statutory 10-day extension period attached.

"The government may still be deciding who is the proper agency to respond to the FOIA request. The Navy's not going to say 'yes, we'll give you the pictures' while the CIA says 'no, we're not,'" said Scott Hodes, a former Justice Department lawyer, to The Atlantic Wire.

In its original FOIA request, Judicial Watch had requested pictures and videos from the Bin Laden raid, reports The Atlantic Wire. The organization has filed over 300 FOIA requests to various branches of government and has filed lawsuits in about three dozen requests.

Judicial Watch claimed that they were being irreparably harmed by the Department of Defense's refusal to hand over the pictures. "The American people have a right to know, by law, basic information about the killing of Osama Bin Laden," said Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, to CNN.

The Bin Laden photos have been requested by various other organizations, including NPR, the AP, and Politico, reports The Atlantic Wire. Judicial Watch also filed an identical FOIA request to the CIA, which has not responded yet.

The CIA, however, has been inviting members of Congress to view the Bin Laden photos, in an effort to show why President Obama declined to release the photographs.

The Department of Defense may be able to argue that the Bin Laden photos fall under the category of "classified information" - which is exempt from FOIA requests.

Moreover, there is a strong likelihood that Judicial Watch's FOIA lawsuit to get the Bin Laden photos will fall flat. Though the Department of Defense states that it will not be complying since it cannot meet the statutory 20-day deadline, in reality the 20-day deadline has not passed. Judicial Watch may have filed its lawsuit a few days too early.

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