Iraqi Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein has been in prison for over 19 months. The U.S. military plans to seek a criminal case against Hussein but have not disclosed evidence or even the actual charges against the man.
According to Harper’s Magazine, “the order to arrest Hussein came from very high up, and the reason for the arrest was unmistakable: he was the man who took those damned photographs!”
Iraq- AP was notified on Sunday Nov. 18, 2007 that Hussein’s case would be brought into the Iraqi justice system as early as November 29, 2007.
“This is a poor example _ and not the first of its kind _ of the way our government honors the democratic principles and values it says it wants to share with the Iraqi people,” AP President and CEO Tom Curley wrote in an opinion piece in The Washington Post.
When Hussein and his lawyer enter the court they will enter it “blindly” with no idea what evidence or charges are being thrown to the photographer. Military officials have refused to disclose the content of the complaint against the man to anyone, including AP who has repeatedly requested it.
A native of Fallujah the 36 year old photograph was part of the AP’s Pulitzer Prize-winning photo team in 2005. He has been detained in Ramadi since April 12, 2006.
“In the 19 months since he was picked up, Bilal has not been charged with any crime, although the military has sent out a flurry of ever-changing claims. Every claim we’ve checked out has proved to be false, overblown or microscopic in significance,” said Curley.
The military has alleged that Hussein has ties to terrorist groups. That is something that the AP has delved into coming up empty handed. What they did note though was that he was a working photo journalist covering a war that perhaps the United States government doesn’t want their citizens to know all the sordid details. He didn’t take nice fluffy pictures, he was covering a bloody brutal war. Could he have been simply to good at his job?
“We believe Bilal’s crime was taking photographs the U.S. government did not want its citizens to see. That he was part of a team of AP photographers who had just won a Pulitzer Prize for work in Iraq may have made Bilal even more of a marked man,” Curley wrote.
U.S. officials have accused him of providing false ID to a sniper seeking to evade U.S. forces, of having bomb making equipment and that he took photos that were in sync with insurgent blasts. Not one of these accusations have been found to have merit when researched by the AP.
“The best evidence of how Hussein conducted himself as a journalist working for AP is the extensive photographic record,” Gardephe wrote. “There is no evidence — in nearly a thousand photographs taken over the 20-month period — that his activities ever strayed from those of a legitimate journalist.”
The military has refused to answer questions posed to them by Hussein’s attorney Paul Gardephe. Gardephe has also revealed that Hussein was interrogated without his lawyer present for the first time in over 16 months recently. He presumes that this was to gain some evidence to be used against the man.
“How is Gardephe to defend Bilal? This affair makes a mockery of the democratic principles of justice and the rule of law that the United States says it is trying to help Iraq establish,” Curley wrote.
Before Hussein was imprisoned he covered Fallujah or in Ramadi. The photos he took were often ones that higher ups would have preferred to remain unseen. He was able to move in and out of dangerous areas because he lived that terrain for all of his life. He had the ability to gain a press coverage that perhaps some of the West will never be able to.
Hussein had been working at a mobile phone shop when AP picked him up as a photographer. He was first hired as a translator and driver. Within months of that assignment he was taking professional quality pictures, including one of insurgents engaged with coalition forces that was part of AP’s Pulitzer Prize-winning photography entry last year.
Going into journalism in Iraq is not a wise career move. Journalists are killed or imprisoned at the drop of a hat. His family has had to flee their bullet riddled home. He once had to ditch his valuable camera gear to run for his life.
His photos were not always printed. They showed things that are too graphic for most people to view. They showed war. They showed how children reacted to war. The AP has investigated this journalist quite thoroughly. He is one of their own. Their reports on him show a dedicated man who wanted the truth to be shown.
“Hussein’s interrogators have repeatedly alluded to the photographs he took as the basis for his incarceration,” the report said. “Interrogators have focused, in particular, on several photographs taken shortly before his arrest showing Iraqi children playing with the torn-off leg of an injured U.S. or Iraqi soldier.”
The report quoted one interrogator as saying to Hussein: “Do you know what would happen if these photos were shown in the U.S.? There would be huge demonstrations
In prison he’s a marked man. He worked for a Western news service. He’s been labeled as an enemy by the U.S. military. He’s in an impossible position that had he never lifted a camera he wouldn’t have been.
Did he know terrorists? Chances are pretty high that he did. He grew up with them, went to school and mosque with some of them probably. That doesn’t mean that he is a terrorist. It doesn’t mean that he followed the same path. It does mean he would have been able though to get photos a little more easily. Gain their trust so that the world could see what is going on. Be a better journalist.
It always means that if someone doesn’t want real stories told then it’s better to get him out of the way.
“At present, Hussein is being held in a judicial limbo with the U.S. military changing their accusations against him each time they are disproved,” Fritz said.
“IPI calls on the U.S. military to release him or try him or show good cause before an independent court as to why they cannot do so.”
Until this happens, Hussein, in the eyes of the international community, will “remain an innocent AP photographer enduring what appears to be a long and unjust imprisonment,” Fritz said.
Freedom of the press? It’s becoming more freedom (if you hush about what shouldn’t be out there) of the press.
Video link to U.S. plans case against AP photographer.