White House press secretary Jay Carney reaffirmed Tuesday that President Obama has not changed his position on the release of Osama bin Laden's postmortem photographs. The question to Carney was based on an Atlantic Wire report from earlier today on disclosure laws that may force the administration to release some of the bin Laden images whether it wants to or not. Carney seemed confused by the question, as if the report suggested the White House had changed its position on releasing the photos (our report doesn't say that). Politico's Donovan Slack asks the question:
Q Thanks, Jay. I just want to ask about the photos of the raid on the Osama bin Laden compound. There have been reports that some of them may be released.
MR. CARNEY: Was that in the British media? (Laughter.)
Q No, that was actually in the Atlantic Wire -- thank you. The President had said previously that he does not favor the release of any of these photos. Couldn’t there be portions of the imagery that could or should be released without implicating national security?
MR. CARNEY: I honestly have not seen those reports. The President’s position on the release of images of Osama bin Laden, in particular, was very clearly stated at the time and has not changed. I would have to either refer you to the Defense Department on the broader question of other photos that may exist, and I can take that question as well.
Laying aside the association with British tabloids (nice one, Jay), Slack latched onto an important question: Aren't there portions of the bin Laden imagery that could be released without jeopardizing national security? In essence, this is what the Justice Department conceded in its court filing last week, according Dan Metcalfe, the former director of the Department of Justice's Office of Information and Privacy. "[The government] tellingly does not claim that even every such image of bin Laden, in and of itself, would cause the envisioned harm if disclosed." Metcalfe told The Atlantic Wire.
Some conservative bloggers, such as Townhall's Kate Hicks, have speculated that a forced disclosure of bin Laden's death photos is a calculated White House ploy to have the photos released in time for the 2012 presidential election.
It's important to note that Justice Department lawyers are arguing to keep all 52 records of Osama bin Laden's death concealed forever. The argument Metcalfe is making is that there's a hole in the Justice Department's legal argument that could result in it losing its case against Judicial Watch, the watchdog group suing for the release of the photos. Given that Metcalfe has experience defending more than 500 Freedom of Information Act and Privacy Act lawsuits for the U.S. government, that's an opinion that carries some weight.