Judicial Watch had sued for access to the bin Laden photos, arguing in court back in January that there was "no apparent nexus" between intelligence activities and photos of bin Laden's burial or preparation for burial. But the judges hearing the case seemed inclined to defer to the government, which contended that the release of even the less-violent images could spark violence against U.S. interests.
Various declarations from government officials "support their declarants’ determinations that releasing any of the images, including the burial images, could reasonably be expected to trigger violence and attacks 'against United States interests, personnel, and citizens worldwide'" the panel ruled.
"[T]his is not a case in which the declarants are making predictions about the consequences of releasing just any images. Rather, they are predicting the consequences of releasing an extraordinary set of images, ones that depict American military personnel burying the founder and leader of al Qaeda," the unanimous panel ruled.
The government was not withholding the images under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) because of any wrongdoing, the court ruled, "but rather to prevent the killing of Americans and violence against American interests." The court did not rule on a secondary claim made by the government, that images could be classified simply because their disclosure would facilitate anti-American propaganda.