Details of Osama bin Laden’s sea burial have emerged after the Associated Press obtained internal e-mails between U.S. military officials as part of a Freedom of Information request.
The e-mails, which were heavily blacked out, mark the first public disclosure about the al-Qaeda leader’s burial and highlight the intense secrecy surrounding the mission.
Bin Laden was killed in a raid in Pakistan on May 1, 2011, by a team of Navy SEALs. One e-mail sent on May 2 described how bin Laden’s body was prepared: it was washed in an Islamic ritual of ablution, wrapped in a white sheet and then put in a weighted bag. Other cryptic e-mails made reference to bin Laden’s body, calling it “the package” delivered by “FedEx.”
No sailors on the U.S.S. Carl Vinson watched as Islamic rites were read, and the al-Qaeda leader’s body was dropped into the ocean, according to the e-mails, which also detailed religious rites.
“A military officer read prepared religious remarks, which were translated into Arabic by a native speaker,” read an e-mail sent on May 2 from Rear Admiral Charles Gaoette. “After the words were complete, the body was placed on a prepared flat board, tipped up, whereupon the deceased’s body slid into the sea.”
The AP received the e-mails from the Department of Defense but has also filed separate requests regarding the mission. Agency officials claimed in March that they could not find any photographs or videos taken during the raid in Abbottabad. They also claim to have no photographs or video of bin Laden’s body or the burial on the U.S.S. Carl Vinson.
Separately, the Pentagon said that there was no death certificate, autopsy report or DNA test results on record. Pre-raid documents revealing plans of disposing bin Laden’s body if he were to be killed were also unavailable.
The Department of Defense also refused to confirm or deny the existence of official logs detailing the performance of military equipment used in the raid, including a helicopter that crashed during the mission. People who lived near the bin Laden compound photographed the downed chopper.
The AP has appealed the Department of Defense’s response to their Freedom of Information inquiries, but the agency responded by saying that the CIA, which could potentially keep these records from ever being made public, had not responded to requests for the documents.