The U.S. Court of Appeals three-judge panel ruled against an appeal from conservative advocacy group Judicial Watch, which had filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Department of Defense and the CIA. The government argued to keep them secret because the photos could spark attacks against Americans.
The federal district court in Washington, D.C., had similarly ruled against Judicial Watch.
“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.
In 2011, just days after Navy Seals entered bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, and shot the notorious al Qaida leader, Judicial Watch announced its decision to sue for the release of the photos.
"President Obama announced... that he will not release the death photos of Osama bin Laden to the public, saying 'we don’t need to spike the football' or 'gloat,'" Judicial Watch wrote at the time. "Simply put, those are not lawful reasons from withholding these historic documents. Judicial Watch plans to fight for the release of these photos."