After seeing bin Laden photos, lawmakers differ over release

McClatchy NewspapersMay 11, 2011 

WASHINGTON — Lawmakers who've seen graphic photos of a dead Osama bin Laden differ over whether the photos should be made public.

Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., saw some photos and came away convinced they must remain under lock and key.

"I was asked, personally, to keep them secret by folks in the intelligence field, who don't want those photos released," Nunes said in an interview Wednesday.

A member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Nunes cited his secrecy oath in strictly limiting his own description of the bin Laden photos whose disclosure he fears would endanger U.S. forces.

"I'll just say this," Nunes said. "He's dead."

But a fellow conservative Republican who saw the photos Wednesday at CIA headquarters, Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, insisted that at least some of the bin Laden photos should be released. Inhofe told the Associated Press that he spent about an hour examining more than a dozen photos, some showing gruesome wounds.

"Either a bullet, the significant bullet, went through the ear and out the eye, or vice versa," Inhofe told AP. "It wasn't a very pretty picture."

Inhofe was among the first in what's expected to be a caravan of lawmakers making the trek to CIA headquarters in northern Virginia to view the bin Laden photos.

President Barack Obama, saying he does not want to "spike the football," declared that the photos of bin Laden would not be released publicly.

But House and Senate intelligence panel members, congressional leaders and members of the House and Senate armed services committee have been invited to a secure room at CIA headquarters.

At least some of the photos show bin Laden's face, or what remained of it after he was shot twice by a Navy SEAL commando. One of the bullets hit the 54-year-old bin Laden above the left eye and the other entered his chest, Obama administration officials say.

The type of weapon, caliber of bullet, distance at which bin Laden was shot and full extent of structural damage done have not been formally divulged by the administration.

Nunes said congressional intelligence committee members were shown "photos and videos" at a briefing, and he noted that the House panel has asked for additional photos and videos to be provided in secret as well.

"We have not seen all of them yet," Nunes said. "The committee has asked them to bring all of their photos and videos."

Still others opt out.

"I don't want to see it," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told reporters, calling the photos "morbid."

The public at large would get a chance to see the photos if the Associated Press and other news organizations succeed in Freedom of Information Act requests filed to gain access.

The CIA, though, is likely to cite national security or other concerns in rejecting the FOIA requests.

"I think there are a number of FOIA exceptions it will fall under," noted Nate Jones, FOIA coordinator for the National Security Archive.

Although rejected FOIA requests can prompt lawsuits, Jones added that federal judges often grant considerable deference to military and security organizations when considering freedom of information cases.

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