Written by Tom Fitton
If Obama administration officials thought the controversy surrounding the bin Laden death images was put to rest after the Supreme Court refused to consider Judicial Watch’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit, they could not be more wrong.
JW recently uncovered smoking gun evidence that the Obama administration’s efforts to keep these photos secret included an order by a top Pentagon official to destroy them, which could be a violation of federal law. As a result of this latest news, JW is calling for an investigation.
Now let’s get to that evidence.
On January 31, 2014, we received documents from the Department of Defense revealing that within hours of JW filing a May 13, 2011, 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.” (JW had filed a FOIA request for the photos 11 days earlier.)
Specifically, the McRaven email, addressed to “Gentlemen,” instructs:
One particular item that I want to emphasize is photos; particularly UBLs [sic] 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].
The timing of this directive is curious to say the least. According to the Pentagon documents, McRaven sent his email on “Friday, May 13, 2011 5:09 PM.” The records obtained by JW do not detail what documents, if any, were destroyed in response to the McRaven directive. Just hours earlier, JW’s FOIA lawsuit seeking the documents was filed in the United States Court for the District of Columbia. Owing to the enormous public interest in JW’s pursuit of the photos, we announced the filing at a press conference that same morning.
(Our original FOIA request, filed May 2 with the Defense Department, sought “all photographs and/or video recordings of Usama Bin Laden taken during and/or after the U.S. military operation in Pakistan on or about May 1, 2011.”)
Now, clearly McRaven’s directive was intended to keep photographic evidence of bin Laden’s death from ever seeing the light of day. And this is wholly consistent with the Obama administration’s secretive approach to bin Laden’s capture, killing and burial at sea. But was it unlawful? Federal law contains broad prohibitions against the “concealment, removal, or mutilation generally” of government records. Failure to comply with the law can result in a fine and a three-year prison term.
JW got hold of McRaven’s “destroy them immediately” email as a result of a June 7, 2013, FOIA request and a subsequent lawsuit against the Defense Department for records relating to reports of the 2011 McRaven purge directive.
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.” Curiously, the reference to the document purge did not appear in the final IG report.
I have to say, it is rare to obtain such solid evidence of a government official ordering the destruction of government records. This is the epitome of a “smoking gun.”
And it appears the move by McRaven to purge the photos came, at least in part, in response to aggressive efforts by Judicial Watch to obtain images of the deceased bin Laden that President Obama, in a rewrite of federal open records law, had refused to disclose.
In addition to its May 2, 2011, FOIA request with the Pentagon, Judicial Watch filed an identical request on May 3, 2011, with the CIA. When neither the Defense Department nor the CIA complied with the FOIA requests, Judicial Watch, in June 2011, filed FOIA lawsuits against both agencies. In the course of the litigation, the Pentagon claimed that it had “no records responsive to plaintiff’s request.”
Unfortunately the courts have enabled the Obama administration’s secrecy and obfuscation. On April 26, 2012, District Court Judge James Boasberg accepted the Obama DOD and CIA arguments, ruling that the images could remain secret while conceding: “Indeed, it makes sense that the more significant an event is to our nation – and the end of bin Laden’s reign of terror certainly ranks high – the more need the public has for full disclosure.”
On May 21, 2013, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia affirmed the District Court decision while conceding that the documents may not have been properly classified. The Supreme Court of the United States subsequently denied Judicial Watch’s petition for a writ of certiorari seeking a review of the issue.
Folks, the McRaven “destroy them immediately” email is a smoking gun, revealing both contempt for the rule of law and the American’s people right to know. The Obama administration has tried to cover this scandal up – and our lawsuit exposed it. As I say, we are demanding further investigation of the effort to destroy documents about the bin Laden raid. And I will continue to keep you updated in this space.
There remains a nagging question about bin Laden’s capture and killing – a question made only more pressing by the Obama administration’s secrecy. What is it about these photos that Obama does not want us to see?
“I’ve got a pen and I’ve got a phone – and I can use that pen to sign executive orders and take executive actions and administrative actions that move the ball forward.”
“That’s the good thing about being President. I can do whatever I want.” [President Obama during a recent visit to Monticello.]
About the best thing that can be said about President Obama and his penchant for unilateral, extra-constitutional executive action is that he’s not being coy about it. He tells you he’s going to break the law. And then he does it.
And he just did it again.
As reported by The Wall Street Journal:
Most employers won’t face a fine next year if they fail to offer workers health insurance, the Obama administration said Monday, in the latest big delay of the health-law rollout.
The Treasury Department, in regulations outlining the Affordable Care Act, said employers with 50 to 99 full-time workers won’t have to comply with the law’s requirement to provide insurance or pay a fee until 2016. Companies with more workers could avoid some penalties in 2015 if they showed they were offering coverage to at least 70% of full-time workers.
The move came after employers pressured the Obama administration to peel back the law’s insurance requirements. Some firms had trimmed workers’ hours to below 30 hours a week to avoid paying a penalty if they didn’t offer insurance.
According to the WSJ, a senior administration official said there was “no one reason was behind the change.”
Oh, but I beg to differ. There is one purely selfish political reason behind the decision to flout the rule of law and rewrite Obamacare – again and again. To win elections. A sentiment echoed by Charles Krauthammer in an appearance on the Fox News Channel (transcript courtesy of The Right Scoop):
…generally speaking you get past the next election by changing your policies, by announcing new initiatives, but not by wantonly changing the law lawlessly. This is stuff you do in a banana republic. It’s as if the law is simply a blackboard on which Obama writes any number he wants, any delay he wants, and any provision.
…These are political decisions to minimize the impact leading up to an election. And it’s changing the law in a way that you are not allowed to do.
Here’s a part of the law the president did not change. While corporations are getting a break from the mandate, American families are not. Anyone who doesn’t run a company with more than 50 employees is still stuck under Obamacare and its mandates, including, but not limited to, the penalties paid for not having healthcare insurance (or the “right kind” of healthcare insurance).
Oh, and before the president’s pen runs dry, he’s got an “avalanche” of new Obamacare regulations yet to come. The Washington Free Beacon reports that according to an American Action Forum analysis, the 28 new regulations in the pipeline are expected to require 45.7 million man hours, costing $1.4 billion annually. That’s 22,800 employees working full-time.
As you might recall, it is the man hours required to abide by Obamacare’s mandates that are at the center of a Judicial Watch lawsuit on behalf of Kawa Orthodontics, owned by Florida orthodontist Larry Kawa.
Judicial Watch lawyers argue that Dr. Kawa expended considerable resources to comply with the original start of the mandate, December 2013 – resources he can never get back now that President Obama has decided to delay the employer mandate (our legal argument is strengthened by Obama’s delaying the law now twice).
Dr. Kawa argues that the law, and the U.S. Constitution, require that the original mandate be reinstated, unpleasant political consequences for President Obama or not.
Unfortunately, our lawsuit was dismissed on by a federal district court. The court ruled that Kawa Orthodontics didn’t have standing to pursue the case. JW is appealing the ruling with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.
And what is the state of healthcare in America as the president attempts to keep his Titanic healthcare reform law afloat? Not enough life rafts. Millions of people have had their health insurance cancelled, children with disabilities are being denied treatment, and people are having trouble finding any doctors to treat them at all.
And that uber-expensive train wreck of a website Healthcare.gov still can’t get its act straight. Perhaps this should come as no shock to the system given that the contractor hired to clean up the mess was cited by the U.S. Postal Service Inspector General’s office for having “absence of business ethics.” Fox News used the words “kickbacks” and “bid rigging” to characterize the activities of employees working for Accenture.
This just gets worse and worse as the days pass.
So I can certainly understand the temptation to rewrite Obamacare, a freedom-killing piece of legislation that is corrupted by secrecy, kickbacks, and political power grabs. But as any high school history class will teach, writing laws, and changing them, is the province of the legislative branch, not the executive.
President Obama has both feet planted out of bounds on this (and on so many other issues, including illegal alien amnesty) and worse – he doesn’t seem to care. Because that’s the good thing about being THIS president, evidently. He can do whatever he wants. Or so he believes. Let’s hope the Eleventh Circuit reminds him otherwise.
Letting terrorists off the hook is dangerous. But inviting a terrorist to dine at the Pentagon is downright dangerous and bizarre. But that’s exactly what happened when Anwar al-Aulaqi, the American-born terrorist ultimately assassinated by President Obama, was asked to speak at a Pentagon luncheon.
And the more we learn about what the government knew about al-Aulaqi, the more curious we become as to why this man was courted by those entrusted with our national security.
The same can be said for Omar al-Bayoumi, a Saudi national with known ties to terrorism who was arrested by British authorities working with the FBI days after the 9/11 attacks. Al- Bayoumi was subsequently released one week later. He remains at large.
JW has been investigating the suspicious relationships between suspected terrorists and our federal government because we believe our national security has been compromised by cover-ups, incompetence and pro-jihadist political correctness.
Just this week, JW released 79 pages of investigative reports from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) providing further evidence of ties between terrorist leaders Anwar al-Aulaqi and Omar al-Bayoumi, the government of Saudi Arabia, and FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) counter-terrorism investigations in the days leading up to the 9-11 terrorist attack.
Included in the new documents are dozens of pages of a case-establishing “Letterhead Memorandum” from the FBI’s Washington headquarters and San Diego field office. Limited portions of some of the memos had been previously released, but with many of the key elements heavily redacted. The documents came in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit filed by Judicial Watch against the U.S. Department of State and FBI on June 4, 2012.
Among the new revelations contained in the 79 pages of documents are the following:
The FBI had early suspicions about closer ties between Aulaqi and 9-11 hijacker Nawaf al-Hazmi than Aulaqi admitted: “This data suggests a more pervasive connection between al-Hazmi and Aulaqi than he [Aulaqi] admitted to during his interview with the FBI.”
The FBI had confirmed Aulaqi’s nexus with other FBI counter-terrorism investigations: “[Investigations] of Aulaqi reveal further links to other FBI International Terrorist investigations including … the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) in the United States.”
The documents explicitly state that as far back as 2001, Omar al-Bayoumi was reportedly a Saudi intelligence agent: “An individual who has requested confidentiality has stated al-Bayoumi is believed to have worked for the Saudi Arabian Intelligence Service and reports on dissident Saudis in the U.S. Rental and other records indicate al-Bayoumi consistently indicated his occupation as a student.”
Several pages of heavily redacted investigative reports contain analysis of pen registers of al-Aulaqi calls. These include a reference to an al-Aulaqi nexus with the DEA investigation, as well as contacts between al-Aulaqi and al-Bayoumi: “DEA Analysts are continuing analysis of telephone call activity …” and al-Aulaqi “… was also involved in call activity with … San Diego PENTTBOM subject OMAR AL-BAYOUMI. AL-BAYOUMI cosigned the lease of an apartment rented by [terrorist hijackers] NAWAF ALHAZMI and KHALID ALMIHDHAR.”
Omar al-Bayoumi’s activities while in San Diego, California, were apparently on behalf of the government of Saudi Arabia according to an unidentified FBI source: al-Bayoumi disclosed “to others at the Islamic Center of San Diego (ICSD) he had friends or contacts at the Saudi Consulate in Los Angeles, California … [redacted] advised AL-BAYOUMI was extremely close to other ICSD Saudis … believed AL-BAYOUMI was in the United States on scholarship from the Saudi Airport Authority of Saudi Airlines ….” Saudi Airlines is the flag-carrying airline of Saudi Arabia.
Omar al-Bayoumi was one of dozens of other Saudis in the U.S. on similar arrangements: “[Redacted] identified AL-BAYOUMI as a ghost employee of AVCO Oversees … estimated that there were approximately fifty (50) individuals carried on the books and PCA or Dallah and being paid for doing nothing.” Dallah AVCO is headquartered in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
According to a New York Times article on a secret Congressional report in 2003, Omar al-Bayoumi, a Saudi national, was suspected of being a Saudi intelligence agent who may have reported to Saudi government officials. The article said that al-Bayoumi was employed by a contractor to the Saudi civil aviation authority, and received payments authorized by a Saudi official. According to the Times story, “The payments authorized by the Saudi official increased significantly after Mr. al-Bayoumi came in contact with the two hijackers in early 2000, the classified part of the report states.”
And now al-Bayoumi – the suspected Saudi intelligence agent, who co-signed a lease on behalf of terrorist hijackers and served as a “ghost employee” for a Saudi shell company – is “at large.” Even though he was once in custody by British intelligence and the FBI.
With respect to al-Aulaqi, on September 11, 2013, Judicial Watch released surveillance reports and logs it had obtained from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) revealing that FBI agents trailed al-Aulaqi to the front doors of the Pentagon on the day he spoke as an invited guest at a Department of Defense luncheon.
The day before the surveillance and luncheon, al-Aulaqi had been identified as a “terrorist organization member,” and an FBI alert had been issued reading, “Warning – approach with caution . . . Do not alert the individual to the FBI’s interest and contact your local FBI field office at the earliest opportunity.” [Emphasis added] Judicial Watch had previously obtained documents from the U.S. State Department indicating that the (FBI) was aware on September 27, 2001, that al-Aulaqi had purchased airplane tickets for three of the 9/11 terrorist hijackers, including mastermind Mohammed Atta.
Subsequent to the FBI’s discovery, al-Aulaqi was detained and released by authorities at least twice.
These documents suggest that serious questions remain about what an obvious Saudi intelligence asset was doing in assisting the 9/11 hijackers. As these newly released documents confirm, as far back as the 9-11 attacks, the FBI had substantial evidence that both al-Aulaqi and al-Bayoumi were involved in 9/11. One was not punished for a dozen years, and the other still roams free. We intend to keep digging into this critical issue. It should cause concern that none of these questions were answered before Obama ordered al-Aulaqi’s controversial assassination.
Tom Fitton, President
Judicial Watch, Inc., a conservative, non-partisan educational foundation, promotes transparency, accountability and integrity in government, politics and the law. Through its educational endeavors, Judicial Watch advocates high standards of ethics and morality in our nation's public life and seeks to ensure that political and judicial officials do not abuse the powers entrusted to them by the American people. Judicial Watch fulfills its educational mission through litigation, investigations, and public outreach.