U.S. Holds AP Photographer in Iraq 5 Mos




 
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U.S. Holds AP Photographer in Iraq 5 Mos
 
September 18th, 2006  
Team Infidel
 
 

Topic: U.S. Holds AP Photographer in Iraq 5 Mos


U.S. Holds AP Photographer in Iraq 5 Mos
Media: The Associated Press
Byline: By ROBERT TANNER
Date: 18 September 2006

Body:


The U.S. military in Iraq has imprisoned an Associated Press photographer
for five months, accusing him of being a security threat but never filing
charges or permitting a public hearing.

Military officials said Bilal Hussein, an Iraqi citizen, was being held for
"imperative reasons of security" under United Nations resolutions. AP
executives said the news cooperative's review of Hussein's work did not find
anything to indicate inappropriate contact with insurgents, and any evidence
against him should be brought to the Iraqi criminal justice system.

Hussein, 35, is a native of Fallujah who began work for the AP in September
2004. He photographed events in Fallujah and Ramadi until he was detained on
April 12 of this year.

"We want the rule of law to prevail. He either needs to be charged or
released. Indefinite detention is not acceptable," said Tom Curley, AP's
president and chief executive officer. "We've come to the conclusion that
this is unacceptable under Iraqi law, or Geneva Conventions, or any military
procedure."

Hussein is one of an estimated 14,000 people detained by the U.S. military
worldwide _ 13,000 of them in Iraq. They are held in limbo where few are
ever charged with a specific crime or given a chance before any court or
tribunal to argue for their freedom.

In Hussein's case, the military has not provided any concrete evidence to
back up the vague allegations they have raised about him, Curley and other
AP executives said.

The military said Hussein was captured with two insurgents, including Hamid
Hamad Motib, an alleged leader of al-Qaida in Iraq. "He has close
relationships with persons known to be responsible for kidnappings,
smuggling, improvised explosive device (IED) attacks and other attacks on
coalition forces," according to a May 7 e-mail from U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Jack
Gardner, who oversees all coalition detainees in Iraq.

"The information available establishes that he has relationships with
insurgents and is afforded access to insurgent activities outside the normal
scope afforded to journalists conducting legitimate activities," Gardner
wrote to AP International Editor John Daniszewski.

Hussein proclaims his innocence, according to his Iraqi lawyer, Badie Arief
Izzat, and believes he has been unfairly targeted because his photos from
Ramadi and Fallujah were deemed unwelcome by the coalition forces.

That Hussein was captured at the same time as insurgents doesn't make him
one of them, said Kathleen Carroll, AP's executive editor.

"Journalists have always had relationships with people that others might
find unsavory," she said. "We're not in this to choose sides, we're to
report what's going on from all sides."

AP executives in New York and Baghdad have sought to persuade U.S. officials
to provide additional information about allegations against Hussein and to
have his case transferred to the Iraqi criminal justice system. The AP
contacted military leaders in Iraq and the Pentagon, and later the U.S.
ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad.

The AP has worked quietly until now, believing that would be the best
approach. But with the U.S. military giving no indication it would change
its stance, the news cooperative has decided to make public Hussein's
imprisonment, hoping the spotlight will bring attention to his case and that
of thousands of others now held in Iraq, Curley said.

One of Hussein's photos was part of a package of 20 photographs that won a
Pulitzer Prize for breaking news photography last year. His contribution was
an image of four insurgents in Fallujah firing a mortar and small arms
during the U.S.-led offensive in the city in November 2004.

In what several AP editors described as a typical path for locally hired
staff in the midst of a conflict, Hussein, a shopkeeper who sold cell phones
and computers in Fallujah, was hired in the city as a general helper because
of his local knowledge.

As the situation in Fallujah eroded in 2004, he expressed a desire to become
a photographer. Hussein was given training and camera equipment and hired in
September of that year as a freelancer, paid on a per-picture basis,
according to Santiago Lyon, AP's director of photography. A month later, he
was put on a monthly retainer.

During the U.S.-led offensive in Fallujah in November 2004, he stayed on
after his family fled. "He had good access. He was able to photograph not
only the results of the attacks on Fallujah, he was also able to photograph
members of the insurgency on occasion," Lyon said. "That was very difficult
to achieve at that time."

After fleeing later in the offensive, leaving his camera behind in the rush
to escape, Hussein arrived in Baghdad, where the AP gave him a new camera.
He then went to work in Ramadi which, like Fallujah, has been a center of
insurgent violence.

In its own effort to determine whether Hussein had gotten too close the
insurgency, the AP has reviewed his work record, interviewed senior photo
editors who worked on his images and examined all 420 photographs in the
news cooperative's archives that were taken by Hussein, Lyon said.

The military in Iraq has frequently detained journalists who arrive quickly
at scenes of violence, accusing them of getting advance notice from
insurgents, Lyon said. But "that's just good journalism. Getting to the
event quickly is something that characterizes good journalism anywhere in
the world. It does not indicate prior knowledge," he said.

Out of Hussein's body of work, only 37 photos show insurgents or people who
could be insurgents, Lyon said. "The vast majority of the 420 images show
the aftermath or the results of the conflict _ blown up houses, wounded
people, dead people, street scenes," he said.

Only four photos show the wreckage of still-burning U.S. military vehicles.

"Do we know absolutely everything about him, and what he did before he
joined us? No. Are we satisfied that what he did since he joined us was
appropriate for the level of work we expected from him? Yes," Lyon said.
"When we reviewed the work he submitted to us, we found it appropriate to
what we'd asked him to do."

The AP does not knowingly hire combatants or anyone who is part of a story,
company executives said. But hiring competent local staff in combat areas is
vital to the news service, because often only local people can pick their
way around the streets with a reasonable degree of safety.

"We want people who are not part of a story. Sometimes it is a judgment
call. If someone seems to be thuggish, or like a fighter, you certainly
wouldn't hire them," Daniszewski said. After they are hired, their work is
checked carefully for signs of bias.

Lyon said every image from local photographers is always "thoroughly checked
and vetted" by experienced editors. "In every case where there have been
images of insurgents, questions have been asked about circumstances under
which the image was taken, and what the image shows," he said.

Executives said it's not uncommon for AP news people to be picked up by
coalition forces and detained for hours, days or occasionally weeks, but
never this long. Several hundred journalists in Iraq have been detained,
some briefly and some for several weeks, according to Scott Horton, a New
York-based lawyer hired by the AP to work on Hussein's case.

Horton also worked on behalf of an Iraqi cameraman employed by CBS, Abdul
Ameer Younis Hussein, who was detained for one year before his case was sent
to an Iraqi court on charges of insurgent activity. He was acquitted for
lack of evidence.

AP officials emphasized the military has not provided the company concrete
evidence of its claims against Bilal Hussein, or provided him a chance to
offer a defense.

"He's a Sunni Arab from a tribe in that area. I'm sure he does know some
nasty people. But is he a participant in the insurgency? I don't think
that's been proven," Daniszewski said.

Information provided to the AP by the military to support the continued
detention hasn't withstood scrutiny, when it could be checked, Daniszewski
said.

For example, he said, the AP had been told that Hussein was involved with
the kidnapping of two Arab journalists in Ramadi.

But those journalists, tracked down by the AP, said Hussein had helped them
after they were released by their captors without money or a vehicle in a
dangerous part of Ramadi. After a journalist acquaintance put them in touch
with Hussein, the photographer picked them up, gave them shelter and helped
get them out of town, they said.

The journalists said they had never been contacted by multinational forces
for their account.

Horton said the military has provided contradictory accounts of whether
Hussein himself was a U.S. target last April or if he was caught up in a
broader sweep.

The military said bomb-making materials were found in the apartment where
Hussein was captured but it never detailed what those materials were. The
military said he tested positive for traces of explosives. Horton said that
was virtually guaranteed for anyone on the streets of Ramadi at that time.

Hussein has been a frequent target of conservative critics on the Internet,
who raised questions about his images months before the military detained
him. One blogger and author, Michelle Malkin, wrote about Hussein's
detention on the day of his arrest, saying she'd been tipped by a military
source.

Carroll said the role of journalists can be misconstrued and make them a
target of critics. But that criticism is misplaced, she said.

"How can you know what a conflict is like if you're only with one side of
the combatants?" she said. "Journalism doesn't work if we don't report and
photograph all sides."
 


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