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Federal appeals court rules bin Laden photos may remain classified

The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit [official site] ruled Tuesday that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) [official site] has no legal obligation to release photos [opinion, PDF] of Osama bin Laden [CFR profile; JURIST news archive] after his death. The decision was in response to a Freedom of Information Act [official website] request seeking to have more than 50 photographs released which show bin Laden's body after he was killed by US special forces in Pakistan in 2011. The decision was made in the interest of safety for the American people, and included an assertion from the Obama administration, which said that the graphic nature of the pictures had the potential to cause riots which may endanger Americans living abroad.

The court heard arguments [JURIST report] on the release of the photos in January. Concerns about the nature of bin Laden's death and his subsequent burial at sea have arisen since the announcement of his death [JURIST report] in May 2011, while US officials have maintained that their actions were lawful. US State Department Legal Adviser Harold Koh defended the killing [JURIST report] saying it was "consistent with the laws of armed conflict and US military doctrine." Days after the killing, human rights experts from the UN called on the US to disclose further details [JURIST report] of the killing, in order "to allow an assessment in terms of international human rights law standards." UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay insisted [JURIST report] on "a full disclosure of the accurate facts" surrounding the killing of Bin Laden after the White House altered the official account of the killing from its original announcement. US Attorney General Eric Holder told the US Senate Judiciary Committee that the killing of Bin Laden was lawful and justified [JURIST report], testifying that the shooting of Bin Laden was "consistent with our values," and that the soldiers who killed him "conducted themselves totally appropriately."

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