The anti-U.S. lawsuit brought by a “conservative watchdog group”

All I have to say for the moment is that I agree completely with the government on this one:

(AP) WASHINGTON – Public disclosure of graphic photos and video taken of Osama bin Laden after U.S. commandos killed him would damage national security and lead to attacks on American property and personnel, the Obama administration contends in court documents.

Here’s the lame argument for releasing the images:

Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, accused the Obama administration of making a “political decision” to keep the bin Laden imagery secret. “We shouldn’t throw out our transparency laws because complying with them might offend terrorists,” Fitton said in a statement. “The historical record of Osama bin Laden’s death should be released to the American people as the law requires.”

As you’ll recall, I disagreed with Lindsey Graham about this subject earlier. He was right at the Abu Ghraib pictures, but wrong about this.

And while the AP is just doing its job as it sees it, I believe its own request should be denied as well:

The Associated Press has filed Freedom of Information Act requests to review a range of materials, such as contingency plans for bin Laden’s capture, reports on the performance of equipment during the assault on his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, and copies of DNA tests confirming the al Qaeda leader’s identity. The AP also has asked for video and photographs taken from the mission, including photos made of bin Laden after he was killed.

The Obama administration refused AP’s request to consider quickly its request for the records. AP appealed the decision, arguing that unnecessary bureaucratic delays harm the public interest and allow anonymous U.S. officials to selectively leak details of the mission. Without expedited processing, requests for sensitive materials can be delayed for months and even years. The AP submitted its request to the Pentagon less than one day after bin Laden’s death.

OK, maybe not denied. I think a delay of maybe 25 years would be about right. Leave it to historians. Ones with strong stomachs.

A lot of people — including a lot of this administration’s strongest supporters — don’t believe there is such a thing as information that should be withheld for national security reasons. They are wrong. One can have arguments about what should be classified and what should not, but the fact remains that some things should be.

14 thoughts on “The anti-U.S. lawsuit brought by a “conservative watchdog group”

  1. Mark Stewart

    I liked this: “such as contingency plans for bin Laden’s capture, reports on the performance of equipment during the assault on his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan …”

    Yeah, that’s smart; let’s let everyone know how we’ll do it next time.

    There is a big difference between journalism and writing history. Too much of that raid has already been revealed by “sources” who had to shoot from the lip in some kind of sad attempt to be one with the assault team.

    I’m fine with learning what the rest of that helicopter looked like and how it works when it’s technology is no longer cuttting edge.

  2. bud

    One can have arguments about what should be classified and what should not, but the fact remains that some things should be.

    Is that really a fact or just an opinion? As Brad noted in an earlier post virtually nothing is 100% certain. And this is not one of those instances. Although I agree a very few things should be classified I’m inclined to believe the vast majority of what is now secret should be released to the public. Perhaps a bit of transparency would prevent future calamities like Abu Ghraib, Mi Lai or who knows what else that’s going on in our name but in secret.

  3. Karen McLeod

    Bin Laden’s assassination and Abu Ghraib are 2 entirely different situations. Bin Laden’s assassination involved a planned military attack; we certainly do not need to give the enemy any more information about our military capabilities than has already leaked out. Perhaps I’d ok. a neutral lab’s confirmation that the corpse’s DNA matched bin Laden’s, but then someone would claim a conspiracy to “hide the truth” and we’d never hear the end of it. Abu Ghraib, on the other hand, was not an authorized military action. In a prison there should be nothing that would compromise our military. Embarrass and shame them yes; the actions done there by our soldiers were embarrassing and shameful. To my knowledge, they did not involve any secret military abilities. I think the pictures from there are disgusting, but not a military secret.

  4. Brad

    I’d put it this way, Karen: The situations were both alike, and different.

    Here’s why: There was one reason not to release those Abu Ghraib pictures. That same reason was ONE of the two reasons not to release the bin Laden images.

    The reason they share in common is that they would inflame passions, even to the point of violence, leading in deaths, including those of Americans. Doubt this? Well, look at what happens in that part of the world simply in reaction to cartoons. The “right to know” simply does not outweigh the life-and-death risk.

    The other reason not to release the bin Laden photos is the one you cite, in that it gives away sensitive intelligence bearing on our military’s (and the CIA’s) methods and capabilities. But except for technical matters, I doubt there’s much in that regard that would be revealed by images (I’m just guessing here; I could be totally off on this, and personally, I don’t think it’s worth the risk of finding out). National security was probably more compromised by the unfortunate necessity of leaving that helicopter behind (in spite of the SEALs’ efforts to destroy it).

    Bin Laden is dead. Our guys killed him. Anybody who wants to dispute that can present evidence to the contrary if they can, and they are so inclined. I have enough information on this, and so does the world.

  5. Karen McLeod

    Brad, I think that hiding the Abu Ghraib photos just led thos who would be outraged to think that they were even worse than they were. Imagination can always provide worse images than the actually is.

  6. bud

    Funny how the warmongers have no problem dropping napalm, cluster bombs, spent uranium and other horrors on civilians, dismissing such as “collateral damage” as a part of the bigger effort to bring freedom, democracy and the American way to the downtrodden of the world. But whenever something comes up that might in some way show a different aspect of war all of a sudden it becomes a consideration to not want to inflame anti-American passions. Seriously, a few photos vs. a couple hundred thousand dead Iraqis? What constitutes the bigger atrocity?

  7. Bart

    The details of the raid and death of bin Laden are pretty much out there, revealed by apparently, legitimate sources. What at this point can still be considered confidential or secret about the operational tactics used to kill the man?

    Query. Of the following list, which one(s) should be published in the American press/news outlets for the world to see?

    Abu Gharib photos.

    Flag draped coffins of dead soldiers at Dover Air Force Base.

    Photos of Osama bin Laden’s dead body.

    Cartoons or drawings of the Prophet Mohammed Muslims deem offensive.

    Cartoons or drawings of Christ Christians deem offensive.

    If we agree to not publish one, then why not agree to not publish all photographs of images regarded as offensive and insensitive by certain groups of people?

  8. Brad

    I never know what to say to questions like that, since I’ve spent most of my life making dozens, hundreds, if not thousands of decisions like that every day.

    That’s what editors do — say “run this, don’t run that.” It’s an absolute necessity, because of finite space in print. And, as I’ve learned over the past six years of blogging, because of the finite time online. Every day, I only get to a fraction of the stuff I really, really WANT to post, the stuff I feel I NEED to post. I don’t even get to considering anything about which there is any doubt in my mind, normally.

    I say that because I was always bemused when people would be furious because a comic strips was not published because it was deemed inappropriate. They called it “censorship,” which was ridiculous. Yeah, it was unusual not to run a feature that you ran most days. But beyond that, you were just exercising the kind of judgment you were paid to exercise with every single word or picture or anything else that came across your desk (back in the days when copy crossed desks). And no one ever hollered “censorship” about all the other thousands of things that didn’t make the cut.

    But to address your comment more directly, instead of merely musing… Well, you need to define it. Are you talking about whether an editor or news director should publish or air this or that thing on your list? Or are you asking whether a government should forbid a news outlet from publishing something?

    If your question is the former, I’d say it would depend on a whole lot of other factors you’re not describing. Every publication decision involves timeliness, confidence in accuracy, how interesting it is, what’s competing with it, and yes, whether it’s appropriate and responsible to publish. That last factor is VERY complex, involving such functions as whether you believe a piece of information is both relevant and (if there’s a high probability of giving offense) whether you will be offending readers necessarily or not. You know, as in, does the importance of voters knowing this outweigh the fact that people who rely on us to be responsible purveyors of news are going to hurl at the breakfast table when they see it, to name one consideration.

    As for the second question — should it be censored (as in, criminal penalties for publishing). To that, my answer would be an almost absolute no. I say “almost” absolute because I distrust absolutes. I’ve never run into a situation, in my whole career, in which I think it would be appropriate for a government to do that. But I don’t believe even the First Amendment is absolute (see, “yelling ‘fire’ in a crowded theater”), and I admit the possibility that such a situation could arise.

    But the really legitimate question in this context is, is it legitimate for a government entity that possesses classified information (stuff that is classified for a good reason) do what it can within the law to prevent a news organization from getting it? To that I say yes, sometimes.

    Such as in this case.

  9. Brad

    Sorry to go off on such a tangent. It was your wording, “should be published in the American press/news outlets,” which is to me a question for editors, not policymakers. So I went into editor mode.

    To answer you more directly… you ask about the Mohammed cartoons. No, I did not publish them and would not. There was NO legitimate reason to publish those. There’s not a single person on the face of the planet who NEEDS, in any sense of the word “need” (for his health, for political reasons, whatever) to see cartoons disrespecting Mohammed. Not one. So as an editor, I had zero obligation to go against my inclinations and publish them.

    The fact that there were irrational people in the world who would kill innocents in their path if I DID publish anything so stupid and unnecessary adds weight to such a decision, makes it easier to explain to some people. (If they are mature people, instead of the kind who would do something stupid and pointless just because someone else tried to tell them not to.) But the fact is, even if the Arab street something like that in stride, the way people in the West might, I wouldn’t do it anyway. I believe it would be wrong to mock Mohammed or those who believe in him.

    Most absurd were the arguments of people who said that BECAUSE there were nuts getting violent over it, we had to assert our RIGHT to do so by publishing them. To me, people who said that were just as irrational as the lunatics who were getting violent over the stupid — and deliberately provocative — decision by others to publish them.

    I have a RIGHT to publish pictures of myself naked if I so choose. But I’m not going to. And the fact that doing so would make some people mad at me doesn’t change my mind.

    Don’t worry on that account; you’re not missing anything. It’s not like I’m Scarlett Johansson.

  10. Bart

    Thank you for your reasoned reply.

    My question was directed at anyone who wished to reply. Your viewpoint from an editor’s position was interesting and informative.

    Whew!!! I must admit that I am grateful that you choose not to publish pictures of yourself naked. Agree wholeheartedly, Scarlett Johansson, you’re not.

    My query was directed at censorship in general, whether self imposed or via a direct order by the government or any other entity/group/individual whose wish is to supress the freedom of speech or expression over anything that they consider offensive or inappropriate to publish.

  11. Karen McLeod

    @Bart, I practice censorship all the time. The email I send to some people is not the one I send to others, because I have no desire to offend someone gratuitously. In public media I see a real difference between publishing the information that the Christian right has objected to certain art, and actually publishing pictures of that art. The first is news. The second is appropriate only if the magazine/paper publishing it is one whose readership can generally deal with such with equamnity or who enjoy that kind of representation. In most cases publishing those sorts of artwork is sensationalism, not news.


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