WASHINGTON // A newly released email shows that 11 days after the killing of terror leader Osama bin Laden in 2011, the US military’s top special operations officer ordered subordinates to destroy any photographs of his 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 on Monday by the group, shows that Adm William McRaven, who heads the US 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, who founded Al Qaeda, was killed by a special operations team in Pakistan on May 2, 2011.
Adm 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 US Freedom of Information Act. Typically, when a freedom of information request is filed to a government agency under the Federal Records Act, the agency is obliged to preserve the material sought — even if the agency later denies the request.
The Special Operations Command is required to comply with rules established by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that dictate how long records must be retained. Its July 2012 manual requires that records about military operations and planning are to be considered permanent and after 25 years, following a declassification review, transferred to the National Archives.
Last July, a draft report by the Pentagon’s inspector general first disclosed Adm 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,” Adm McRaven told his unnamed subordinates: “One particular item that I want to emphasise is photos; particularly UBLs (Bin Laden’s) 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.