Looks like the American people may soon see images of President Obama's new favorite talking point: Osama bin Laden's corpse. Dan Metcalfe, a former Department of Justice official, spoke to Atlantic Wire about recently released documents pertaining to a lawsuit Judicial Watch has instigated, demanding the government release all images associated with bin Laden's death. According to Metcalfe, the government may have to comply and release some of the images, as they overstepped their privacy bounds:
Metcalfe's point is that DOJ lawyers failed to distinguish between which portions of the records are sensitive, for one claimed reason or another, and which are not. Under subsection b of FOIA, the government is required to disclose all parts of the requested information that can be reasonably segregated from the sensitive information. The exemption was added in the 1970s to prevent the government from broadly classifying information in large chunks without having to determine what could reasonably be disclosed.
In other words, the Obama administration needlessly classified all information as sensitive, thereby violating FOIA -- and an executive order issued by Mr. Transparency himself:
Bill Leonard, the former director of the government's Information Security Oversight Office between 2002 and 2008, tells us that an executive order signed by President Obama also requires the government to differentiate between bits of sensitive material. He points to section 1.6(g) of President Obama's executive order issued on Dec. 29, 2009, governing the classification of national security information:
(g) The classification authority shall, whenever practicable, use a classified addendum whenever classified information constitutes a small portion of an otherwise unclassified document or prepare a product to allow for dissemination at the lowest level of classification possible or in unclassified form.
Explaining what the word "practicable" means, Leonard noted that "if you're taking still photos, it's very easy to disaggregate a single photo from a batch of photos and if you have a video it's easy to disaggregate clips from others." Therefore, the government can't just blanket-classify a batch of materials if they are easily chopped up or spliced into unoffensive documents. For instance, the government could exclude or black out images where a Navy SEAL's face appeared or the tail of a high-tech stealth Helicopter appeared.
The cynic in me has to hand it to this administration -- rather than publish the images just after bin Laden's death occurred, they've managed to withhold the information long enough to time the release with the 2012 election. The president has demonstrated his willingness to politicize the infamous terrorist's death, and given his many broken promises and failures -- most notably on the economy -- who could blame him? It's the one bright spot in his otherwise disappointing presidency. Perhaps the timing is unintentional, but I somehow suspect that the Obama reelection team doesn't mind. One thing's for sure, though: Obama certainly won't be blaming Bush for bin Laden's fate.