op-ed: Freedom Of The Press Is Not Always The American Way

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.

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3 responses to “op-ed: Freedom Of The Press Is Not Always The American Way

  • ghegland

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: BILAL Press Release for Journalists

    Tuesday, November 27, 2007

    Today over 1850 professional photographers and journalists from over 90 countries sent once again a petition to the U.S. Government demanding the immediate release of Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein.

    Bilal Hussein was detained by US Forces in Iraq on April 12, 2006, and has been held in prison ever since without charges.

    This week, the US Military informed The Associated Press that they plan to seek a criminal complaint against Bilal before an Iraqi court on Nov. 29.

    Despite the fact that the US Army had said to media outlets that they have “irrefutable evidence” that Bilal is “a terrorist media operative” who had “infiltrated the AP” they won’t say what the charges are or what evidence will be presented.

    We can only wonder why after holding Bilal for 19 months without charges they will not reveal to the AP defense lawyer the accusation or the evidence they feel so strongly about.

    Further, the US Army says that if the Iraqi justice system acquits him they could still throw Bilal back in jail.

    A nearly 50-page report by former federal prosecutor Paul Gardephe on behalf of the AP and recently disclosed by the news agency concludes that there is no hard evidence for any of the allegations that the US Military has so far unofficially made about Bilal.

    Considering the towering injustice committed against Bilal, we demand Bilal’s immediate release.

    Among the signatories are Pulitzer Prize winners Al Diaz, David Leeson, Judy Walgren, Anja Niedringhaus, Alexander Zemlianichenko, Oded Balilty, Lucian Perkins, John Moore and Charles J. Hanley. Agency VII photographers Gary Knight and John Stanmeyer, Noor agency photographer Philip Blenkinsop and Brazilian photographer Sebastiao Salgado have also signed the petition. The full list of signatures is available at http://www.freebilal.org

    The petition, transcribed below, was first faxed on Oct. 12 to the State Department, the White House, the Office of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the Office of the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and to the Department of Justice.

    More on Bilal’s incarceration, and links to news coverage of efforts to free him, can be found at http://www.freebilal.org

    We would appreciate it if you would consider reporting on Bilal Hussein’s situation.

    Free Bilal Committee

    Contact:

    Annika Engvall

    mailto:annika.engvall @worldpicturenews.com

    +1 646-454-5953 / Cell +1 (347) 582-1165

    Tomas Van Houtryve

    mailto:tomas.van.houtryve @gmail.com

    Cell +33 (678) 53 03 16

    Petition:

    “On April 12, 2006, Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein was detained by the US Forces in Iraq and has been held in prison ever since.

    No formal charges have been presented yet against Bilal, who is behind bars for having the courage to photograph Iraqi insurgents. Bilal was part of an AP team that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2005 for its coverage of the Iraq war.

    Bilal’s arrest and imprisonment are a serious affront to the press as a whole, as well as to democratic traditions.

    We, over 1850 professional photographers and journalists from over 90 countries, are seriously concerned for the life of Bilal Hussein, especially in view of the amount of time he has already been locked up and the prison conditions to which he is being subjected.

    For these reasons we demand his immediate release.

    Sincerely,

    The Undersigned (see below)

    Ps. The full list of signatures is available at http://www.freebilal.org/

  • ghegland

    FELLOW JOURNALISTS: A CALL TO ACTION

    Please immediately E-mail Members of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations at their office links below, about your concern regarding Bilal’s denial of Due Process by the U.S. Military through the Military’s refusal to name charges against Bilal in a timely manner for fair preparation of the Defense’s case.
    Joseph R. Biden http://biden.senate.gov/contact/emailjoe.cfm

    Richard G. Lugar senator_lugar@lugar.senate.gov

    Chris Dodd http://dodd.senate.gov/index.php?q=node/3128&cat=Opinion

    John Kerry http://kerry.senate.gov/contact/email.cfm

    Chuck Hagel http://hagel.senate.gov/index.cfm?FuseAction=Contact.Home

    Norm Coleman http://coleman.senate.gov/index.cfm?FuseAction=Contact.ContactForm

    Russ Feingold http://feingold.senate.gov/contact_opinion.html

    Bob Corker http://corker.senate.gov/Contact/index.cfm

    Barbara Boxer https://boxer.senate.gov/contact/email/policy.cfm

    John E. Sununu http://www.sununu.senate.gov/webform.html

    Bill Nelson http://billnelson.senate.gov/contact/email.cfm

    George V. Voinovich http://voinovich.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=Contact.ContactForm

    Senator Lisa Murkowski http://murkowski.senate.gov/contact.cfm#form

    Robert Menendez http://menendez.senate.gov/contact/contact.cfm

    Jim DeMint http://demint.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=Contact.Home

    Benjamin l. Cardin http://cardin.senate.gov/contact/

    Johnny Isakson http://isakson.senate.gov/contact.cfm

    Robert P Casey http://casey.senate.gov/contact.cfm

    David Vitter http://vitter.senate.gov/?module=webformiqv1

    Jim Webb http://webb.senate.gov/contact/

    “““““““““““““““““`

    SAMPLE LETTER

    Due Process Denied

    To the Honorable Senator ____

    Dear Member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations

    Please help our colleague, Pulitzer Prize winning AP photojournalist Bilal Hussein, obtain fair, reasonable and timely Due Process before December 9, 2007 when the U.S. Military will present official charges against him in an Iraqi court. The U.S. Military has refused to give him or his Defense timely notice of charges before this soon approaching court date.

    This is denial of Due Process and is against our U. S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights. The U.S. Military arrested Bilal without charges in April of 2006, interrogated him in Abu Ghraib, and then held him in a Baghdad jail with no formal charges and without writ of habeas corpus for 19 months. Now our military is acting further in a non-Constitutional way in a foreign court and in, as of yet, a non-Democratic country with an overburdened and overcrowded court system. Also, since the Iraqi Court system is Shiite, we are very concerned for Bilal and that he receive fair treatment and a fair trial, since Bilal is Sunni.

    According to former Federal prosecutor Paul Gardephe (please see his investigative report at http://hosted.ap.org/specials/interactives/_international/bilal_document/index.html) Bilal was blindfolded for nine days and was “asked” to spy as a journalist for our military. When Bilal refused, he was detained for 19 months without charges. Bilal will now be charged on “evidence” that was extracted just recently from him after 18 months of unconstitutional detainment and duress during an illegal interrogation with no legal council present.

    Please assure me that this Iraqi journalist will obtain due process immediately, be given the assurance of justice from a fair trial, and that if Bilal is found innocent he should be released and not be returned to the U.S. Military, as they have so stated, for continued and indefinite confinement.

    If these basic human rights cannot be immediately assured Bilal, then please see to it that Bilal is safely released from detainment as soon as humanly possible.

    Thank you for your support and for your service.

    Respectfully,

    ______

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