Judicial Watch announced today that on January 31, 2014, it received documents from the Department of Defense (Pentagon) revealing that within hours of its filing a May 13, 2011, Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit seeking photos of the deceased Osama bin Laden, U.S. Special Operations Commander, Admiral William McRaven ordered his subordinates to “destroy” any photos they may have had “immediately.” Judicial Watch had filed a FOIA request for the photos 11 days earlier.
The McRaven email, addressed to “Gentlemen,” instructs:
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 to the [redacted].
According to the Pentagon documents, McRaven sent his email on “Friday, May 13, 2011 5:09 PM.” The documents do not detail what documents, if any, were destroyed in response to the McRaven directive. The Judicial Watch FOIA lawsuit seeking the documents was filed in the United States Court for the District of Columbia only hours earlier. Judicial Watch also announced the filing at a morning press conference.
Federal law contains broad prohibitions against the “concealment, removal, or mutilation generally” of government records
McRaven’s order was first mentioned at the end of a 2011 draft report by the Pentagon’s inspector general (IG) examining whether the Obama administration gave special access to Hollywood executives planning the film “Zero Dark Thirty.” According the draft report, “ADM McRaven also directed that the names and photographs associated with the raid not be released. This effort included purging the combatant command’s system of all records related to the operation and providing these records to another Government Agency.” The reference to the document purge did not appear in the final IG report.