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A federal appeals court Thursday will consider a lawsuit by a conservative-leaning watchdog group arguing that the public has the right to view the images of Osama bin Laden taken after he was fatally shot in a U.S. raid on his compound in May 2011.
The suit involves a rejected Freedom of Information Act request by Judicial Watch for the release of more than 50 images of the terrorist leader's body.
The government argued successfully to a lower court judge in April that the images must be kept secret in the interest of national security.
Judicial Watch counters that the photos, including those of bin Laden's burial at sea, do not pertain to foreign or intelligence activities of the United States.
The organization also challenges the argument of U.S. officials that the release of the grim photos could incite violence against Americans.
Judicial Watch said in its appeal that the government has not "demonstrated that the release of the images of a somber, dignified burial at sea reasonably could be expected to cause identifiable or describable exceptionally grave damage to national security."
In an interview with CBS's 60 Minutes, President Obama presented the administration's rationale for keeping the photos secret: "It's important for us to make sure that very graphic photos of somebody who was shot in the head are not floating around as an incitement to additional violence or as a propaganda tool," the president said. "That's not who we are. We don't trot out this stuff as trophies."
U.S. District Judge James Boasberg, in his ruling, said he found the explanations from national security officials of the possible risk of "grave harm to our future national security is more than mere speculation."
"While al-Qaeda may not need a reason to attack us, that does not mean no risk inheres in giving it further cause to do so," he wrote, according to Legal Times.
"In the end," Boasberg ruled, "while this may not be the result plaintiff or certain members of the public would prefer, the CIA's explanation of the threat to our national security that the release of these records could cause passes muster."