(CNN) — A federal appeals court on Tuesday backed the U.S. government’s refusal to make public photos and video of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden taken after he was killed by Navy Seals two years ago in Pakistan.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia rejected the bid from conservative legal group Judicial Watch.
The government argued that releasing the images could result in attacks on Americans.
“It is undisputed that the government is withholding the images not to shield wrongdoing or avoid embarrassment but rather to prevent the killing of Americans and violence against American interests,” the judges said.
Judicial Watch filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the release of 52 images showing bin Laden after his death. He was shot during a raid by Seals on his secret compound in Abbottabad.
The CIA refused and said the images had been classified as top secret.
A federal district court decision in favor of the government’s case in April 2012 said there were legitimate national security concerns.
“A picture may be worth a thousand words,” said Judge James Boasberg. “Yet, in this case, verbal descriptions of the death and burial of Osama bin Laden will have to suffice.”
Judicial Watch argued during a January appeals hearing that the government could at least release images showing bin Laden’s burial at sea, arguing that would not harm national security.
It did not make the same claim, however, about more gruesome images taken just after bin Laden was killed.
Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said Tuesday’s decision undermines the rule of law.
“The courts need to stop rubber stamping this administration’s improper secrecy,” Fitton said in a written statement.
“There is no provision of the Freedom of Information Act that allows documents to be kept secret because their release might offend our terrorist enemies.”
Fitton said his group is considering additional legal steps.
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