Judicial Watch Sues for bin Laden Burial at Sea Records

(Washington, DC) – Judicial Watch announced that on July 18, 2012, it filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit (Judicial Watch v. Department of the Navy (No. 1:12-cv-01182)) against the United States Navy for records detailing “any funeral ceremony, rite or ritual” for Osama bin Laden prior to his burial at sea. 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. If U.S. Navy regulations were followed, the burial would have included a prayer to “Allah” to make bin Laden “enter paradise and save him from the trials of grave and the punishment of hell.”

Pursuant to its March 20, 2011, FOIA request, Judicial Watch seeks access to the following records:

i. Any and all records utilized, referenced, or relied upon during the preparation and execution of any funeral ceremony, rite or ritual for Osama bin Laden on the USS Carl Vinson prior to his burial at sea. This request includes, but is not limited to, the text of any prepared remarks or prayers, any instructions provided to those in attendance, or any instructions or guidance regarding the handling of bin Laden’s remains.

ii. Any and all records of communication between any official or employee of the Department of the Navy and any official or employee of any other government department, agency or office regarding any funeral ceremony, rite, or ritual for Osama bin Laden prior to his burial at sea.

The U.S. Navy acknowledged receipt of Judicial Watch’s FOIA request by email dated March 22, 2012, and redirected the request to the Commander, Naval Air Forces on March 27, 2012. By law, a response was due by April 24, 2012. However, as of the date of Judicial Watch’s lawsuit the U.S. Navy has failed to respond to the FOIA request in accordance with the law.

On May 2, 2012, a raid by U.S. Navy SEALS in Pakistan led to the capture and killing of Osama bin Laden, the al Qaeda leader and mastermind of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Quoting Pentagon officials, ABC News reported that bin Laden was buried at sea within 24 hours of his death aboard the USS Carl Vinson in accordance with Muslim law: “…bin Laden’s burial at sea was conducted by a Muslim seaman, who recited the prayers and ensured that the body was washed and wrapped appropriately in cloth.”

According to U.S. Navy regulations, the prayer for Muslim burials includes the following: “O Allah, forgive him, have mercy on him, pardon him, grant him security, provide him a nice place and spacious lodgings, 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.”

In addition to its lawsuit over the bin Laden funeral records, Judicial Watch also sued the Obama administration to force the release of the bin Laden post-mortem photos and video. The Obama administration continues to withhold these records citing national security concerns. On May 4, 2011, President Obama told CBS News in an interview that he would not release the death photos of Osama bin Laden, who was captured and killed by U.S. Navy Seals, to the public, saying “we don’t need to spike the football” or “gloat.” On April 26, 2012, a federal judge blocked public access to the records.

Judicial Watch also sued the Obama Defense Department and CIA for access to record detailing communications between the Obama administration and Kathryn Bigelow, the Hollywood filmmaker who reportedly received classified information from administration officials in preparation for her upcoming film entitled, “Zero Dark Thirty.” According to records uncovered by Judicial Watch, the Obama Defense Department gave Bigelow and Boal identified and offered to make available to a “planner, Operator and Commander of SEAL Team Six,” which was responsible for the capture and killing of Osama bin Laden, to help Bigelow prepare her upcoming feature film.

“Barack Obama is playing politics with bin Laden’s death and ignoring the rule of law – especially the transparency laws that his appointees violate with impunity,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “I suspect the Obama administration is embarrassed by the burial ceremony, which explains our having to go to court to get basic information about this important piece of history.”