Email shows effort to shield bin Laden photos

By By The Associated Press

WASHINGTON  — A newly-released email

shows that 11 days after the killing of terror leader Osama bin Laden in

2011, the

U.S. military's top special operations officer ordered

subordinates to destroy any photographs of the al-Qaida founder's corpse

or turn them over to the CIA.

The email was obtained under a freedom of

information request by the conservative legal group Judicial Watch. The

document,

released Monday by the group, shows that Adm. William McRaven, who

heads the U.S. Special Operations Command, told military

officers on May 13, 2011 that photos of bin Laden's remains should

have been sent to the CIA or already destroyed. Bin Laden

was killed by a special operations team in Pakistan on May 2,

2011.

McRaven's order to purge the bin Laden

material came 10 days after The Associated Press asked for the photos

and other documents

under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act. Typically, when a

freedom of information request is filed to a government agency,

the agency is obliged to preserve the material sought — even if

the agency later denies the request.

On May 3, 2011, the AP asked Special

Operations Command's Freedom of Information/Privacy Act Division office

for "copies of

all e-mails sent from and to the U.S. government account or

accounts" of McRaven referencing bin Laden. McRaven was then vice

admiral.

A May 4, 2011 response from the command's FOIA office to the AP acknowledged the bin Laden document request and said it had

been assigned for processing. AP did not receive a copy of the McRaven email obtained by Judicial Watch.

Last July, a draft report by the Pentagon's

inspector general first disclosed McRaven's secret order, but the

reference was

not contained in the inspector general's final report. The email

that surfaced Monday was the first evidence showing the actual

order.

In a heavily blacked-out email addressed to

"gentlemen," McRaven told his unnamed 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" a

blacked-out location. UBL refers to bin Laden.

At the time the inspector general's report came out, a spokesman for the Special Operations Command referred questions back

to the inspector general.

A CIA spokesman said at the time that

"documents related to the raid were handled in a manner consistent with

the fact that

the operation was conducted under the direction of the CIA

director," then Leon Panetta. The CIA statement also said "records

of a CIA operation such as the raid, which were created during the

conduct of the operation by persons acting under the authority

of the CIA director, are CIA records."

In a Jan. 31, 2014 letter to Judicial Watch in response to its request for all records relating to McRaven's "directive to

purge," the Pentagon's office of general counsel said it had been able to locate only document — Raven's redacted email.

Judicial Watch president Tom Fitton said Monday that the email "is a smoking gun, revealing both contempt for the rule of

law and the American people's right to know."