A former US special forces soldier who shot Osama bin Laden and later wrote a best-selling book, reportedly had an unauthorised photograph of the al-Qaeda leader’s corpse.
A report in the US said Matthew Bissonnette had recently handed over a computer hard drive allegedly containing the image of bin Laden to US investigators.
The Intercept said Mr Bissonnette, a former Navy SEAL and author of No Easy Day, a firsthand account of the 2011 operation to kill the al-Qaeda leader, had been under investigation for allegedly revealing classified information.
Bin Laden was killed in May 2011, along with his bodyguards, after US troops stormed a compound in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad where he had been secretly living.
In a process that the US government said was carried out for security reasons, his body was reportedly then buried at sea off a US aircraft carrier, the USS Carl Vinson.
Images of the burial at sea, along with other pictures of the corpse were taken, but the Obama administration has resisted all efforts by the Associated Press and other groups to obtain them.
Internal emails that were eventually released under the Freedom of Information Act suggest that only a very small number of people onboard the ship were aware of what took place, and that no sailors witnessed it.
One email stamped secret and sent on May 2 2011 by a senior Navy officer, briefly described how bin Laden’s body was washed, wrapped in a white sheet, and then placed in a weighted bag.
“Traditional procedures for Islamic burial was followed,” the email from Rear Adm Charles Gaouette read.
“The deceased's body was washed then placed in a white sheet. The body was placed in a weighted bag. A military officer read prepared religious remarks, which were translated into Arabic by a native speaker. 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.”
In an interview with CBS just a few days after bin Laden was killed, President Obama said he had seen the images - which one group claimed may total as many as 50 - but insisted the government had good reasons not to make them public.
“Keep in mind that we are absolutely certain this was him. We’ve done DNA sampling and testing. And so there is no doubt that we killed Osama bin Laden,” said Mr Obama.
“It is important for us to make sure that very graphic photos of somebody who was shot in the head are not floating around as an incitement to additional violence. As a propaganda tool.”
Mr Bissonnette’s lawyer, Robert Luskin, declined to confirm to The Intercept whether or not his client had an image of bin Laden.
“I can confirm that the criminal investigation of Mr Bissonnette for alleged wrongful handling or disclosure of classified information was closed through declination by the DOJ in August 2015,” said Mr Luskin.
He said that he had negotiated a deal in 2014 with the Pentagon and the Justice Department to hand over to the government some of the millions of dollars in book profits Mr Bissonnette had received for the book, written under the pen name Mark Owen.
Mr Luskin did not immediately respond to calls on Wednesday.Reuse content