WASHINGTON |(Reuters) - A federal appeals court ruled on Tuesday that the U.S. government had properly classified top secret more than 50 images of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden taken after his death, and that the government did not need to release them.
The unanimous ruling by three judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit rejected a request for the images by a conservative nonprofit watchdog group.
Judicial Watch sued for photographs and video from the May 2011 raid in which U.S. special forces killed bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan, after more than a decade of searching.
The organization's lawsuit relied on the Freedom of Information Act, a 1966 law that guarantees public access to some government documents.
In an unsigned opinion, the appeals court accepted an assertion from President Barack Obama's administration that the images are so potent that releasing them could cause riots that would put Americans abroad at risk.
"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 opinion said.
The court ruled that the risk of violence justifies the decision to classify the images top secret, and that the CIA may withhold the images under an exception to the Freedom of Information Act for documents that are classified.