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Pentagon Leader Ordered Destruction of Bin Laden Death Photos

In an email directive U.S. Special Operations Commander, Admiral William McRaven ordered his subordinates to “destroy …  all photographs and/or video recordings of Usama (Osama) Bin Laden taken during and/or after the U.S. military operation in Pakistan on or about May 1, 2011.” The order was issued just hours after a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit requesting the photos was filed in federal court by conservative legal group Judicial Watch.  Judicial Watch announced that it received the documents from the Department of Defense on January 31, 2014.

The documents turned over by the Pentagon reveal that McRaven issued the command within hours of the lawsuit’s filing on May 13, 2011. “One particular item that I want to emphasize is photos,” the email reads, “particularly UBLs 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].”

McRaven’s order was first mentioned at the end of a 2011 draft report by the Pentagon’s inspector general. According the report, “ADM McRaven also directed that the names and photographs associated with the raid not be released.”


“Uncovered by JW: Top Pentagon Leader Ordered Destruction of bin Laden Death Photos,” Judicial Watch, February 10, 2014,
Rebecca Shabad, “Order: Destroy bin Laden Photos,” The Hill, February 11, 2014,
“’Destroy Immediately’: Top US Commander Ordered Bin Laden Photos Purge,”, February 11, 2014,

Corporate Coverage:

“Special Ops Leader Ordered Osama Bin Laden Photos Destroyed After AP Request for Documents,” Associated Press / New York Daily News, February 10, 2013,

[Mention on CNN, Published piece not locatable online], “Group Seeks Bin Laden Photos,” February 11, 2013, – t=72.

Student Researcher: Sabrina Paz Riesgo (Florida Atlantic University)

Faculty Evaluator: James F. Tracy (Florida Atlantic University)

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