Internal emails among the U.S. military officers, released Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), indicated that Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden’s burial at sea followed traditional Islamic procedures.
The heavily redacted email communication is the first public disclosure of government information surrounding the militant leader’s death in a raid by the U.S. Navy SEALs in a compound in Pakistan’s Abbottabad May 1, 2011.
The emails were obtained by the Associated Press through the Freedom of Information Act.
The communication suggested that bin Laden’s burial from the USS Carl Vinson was highly secretive, known only to a small group of the ship’s leadership. The solemn service was not watched by any sailors on the ship.
"Only a small group of the leadership was informed — less than a dozen," the public affairs officer of the ship wrote in reply to an email by a Navy commander who asked May 3 if there were any sailors present at the burial.
"Burial No Sailors Watched," another email stated.
“Traditional procedures for Islamic burial was followed," a May 2 email from Rear Adm. Charles Gaouette addressed to former Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen said.
"The deceased's body was washed (ablution) 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."
An email communication prior to the burial, between Gaouette, then the deputy commander of the Navy's Fifth Fleet, and another officer, showed the extremely secretive nature of the operation.
"Any news on the package for us?" Gaouette asked Rear Adm. Samuel Perez, commander of the carrier strike group that included the Vinson, “package” referring to bin Laden's body that SEALS were transferring to the ship for the sea burial via helicopters.
"FEDEX delivered the package," Perez responded. "Both trucks are safely enroute home base."
The DoD has closely guarded the details surrounding the operation, and earlier attempts by news organizations were repeatedly stonewalled by officials, saying they were unable to locate any death certificate, autopsy report or results of DNA identification tests for bin Laden or any photographic proof of the raid and his death.