Update 11:50pm Eastern: Via the AFP, the US military reveals some details…
The US military has filed a formal complaint with an Iraqi criminal court accusing a detained, award-winning Associated Press photographer of being a “terrorist media operative,” the Pentagon said Monday.
Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon press secretary, said the military made the complaint about Bilal Hussein, who has been held for more than 19 months without charges in US military custody, to Iraq’s Central Criminal Court.
“We believe Bilal Hussein was a terrorist media operative who infiltrated the AP,” he said. “MNF-I possesses convincing and irrefutable evidence that Bilal Hussein is a threat to security and stability as a link to insurgent activity.”
Morrell said an investigative hearing into the case by the court is scheduled to begin on or after November 28.
Hussein was detained April 12, 2006 after marines entered his house in Ramadi to establish a temporary observation post and found bomb-making materials, insurgent propaganda and a surveillance photograph of a US military installation.
Morrell said Hussein, who was part of an AP photo team that won a Pulitzer Prize in 2005, had previously aroused suspicion because he was often at the scene insurgent attacks as they occurred.
He said other evidence, which he would not describe, came to light after his detention “that makes it clear that Mr. Hussein is a terrorist media operative who infiltrated the AP.”
In April 2006, I broke news about our military’s detention of Associated Press stringer Bilal Hussein–whom sources in Iraq told me was captured by American forces in a building in Ramadi, Iraq, with a cache of weapons–and continued to follow the case here, here, here, here, here, here, and here since he was taken into custody. The AP has waged all-out war on the military, demanding that the troops charge or release Hussein. Well, now, the military is about to bring criminal charges against Hussein…and the AP is still, of course, crying foul:
The U.S. military plans to seek a criminal case in an Iraqi court against an award-winning Associated Press photographer but is refusing to disclose what evidence or accusations would be presented.
An AP attorney on Monday strongly protested the decision, calling the U.S. military plans a “sham of due process.” The journalist, Bilal Hussein, has already been imprisoned without charges for more than 19 months.
A public affairs officer notified the AP on Sunday that the military intends to submit a written complaint against Hussein that would bring the case into the Iraqi justice system as early as Nov. 29. Under Iraqi codes, an investigative magistrate will decide whether there are grounds to try Hussein, 36, who was seized in the western Iraqi city of Ramadi on April 12, 2006.
Dave Tomlin, associate general counsel for the AP, said the defense for Hussein is being forced to work “totally in the dark.”
The military has not yet defined the specific charges against Hussein. Previously, the military has pointed to a range of suspicions that attempt to link him to insurgent activity.
The AP rejects all the allegations and contends it has been blocked by the military from mounting a wide-ranging defense for Hussein, who was part of the AP’s Pulitzer Prize-winning photo team in 2005.
Soon after Hussein was taken into custody, the AP appealed to the U.S. military to either release him or bring the case to trial — saying there was no evidence to support his detention. However, Tomlin said that the military is now attempting to build a case based on “stale” evidence and testimony that has been discredited. He also noted that the U.S. military investigators who initially handled the case have left the country.
Faced with the prospect that the full breadth of Hussein’s suspicious activities might actually come to public light, the AP’s Tom Curley changes his tune:
“While we are hopeful that there could be some resolution to Bilal Hussein’s long detention, we have grave concerns that his rights under the law continue to be ignored and even abused,” said AP President and CEO Tom Curley.
“The steps the U.S. military is now taking continue to deny Bilal his right to due process and, in turn, may deny him a chance at a fair trial. The treatment of Bilal represents a miscarriage of the very justice and rule of law that the United States is claiming to help Iraq achieve. At this point, we believe the correct recourse is the immediate release of Bilal.”
In other words, only the crusading AP should be trusted as the judge and jury in this case–national security be damned.
Here’s a refresher on the photos and stories Bilal Hussein was involved in taking/producing before his detention:
A typical example of photography from the “insurgents'” perspective by Bilal Hussein/AP
And another up-close-and-personal snapshot of a day in the life of the “insurgents:”
Many more graphic photos of Hussein’s work here, including this chilling photo in the middle of the Ramadi desert taken by Hussein as triumphant terrorists posed with the body of just-executed hostage Italian national Salvatore Santoro on Dec. 15, 2004:
Insurgent propaganda photo by AP/Bilal Hussein
In November 2004, AP published a glowing profile of Bilal Hussein that was–surprise–critical of the American forces’ assault on Fallujah.
Rusty at The Jawa Report (hat tip – OTB) updated the “continuing saga of insurgent propaganda” earlier this week and pointed to an excellent investigation of phony MSM war photography published by the National Journal’s Neil Munro, who featured Bilal Hussein’s questionable work prominently:
Thanks to digital technology, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are the most photographed in history. Photographers with digital cameras have provided, almost instantaneously, an enormous flood of accurate, dramatic, and even shocking images to people around the world. But the daily downloads of news photos include some that are staged, fake, or so lacking in context as to be meaningless, despite the Western media’s best efforts to separate the factual from the fictional….
The photo editors for Time and The New York Times’ Web site declined to comment. Other publications printed images of damage from the missile strike that seem entirely accurate. For example, Newsweek and The Washington Times published wide-angle photos of locals standing beside houses that had obviously been severely damaged. The New York Times print edition published the same wide-angle photo on January 18…..
The problem sharpens when no Western reporter is on the scene, but a photographer, usually an Iraqi stringer, is. Photo editors, or even local Western bureau chiefs, have trouble judging the veracity of the images that come from such an event. Last October, for example, The Washington Post printed a striking image of four caskets, purportedly containing dead women and children, and a line of mourning men on a flat desert plain outside the town of Ramadi, west of Baghdad. The photo, provided by the Associated Press, accompanied an article that began this way:
“A U.S. fighter jet bombed a crowd gathered around a burned Humvee on the edge of a provincial capital in western Iraq, killing 25 people, including 18 children, hospital officials and family members said Monday. The military said the Sunday raid targeted insurgents planting a bomb for new attacks.
“In all, residents and hospital workers said, 39 civilians and at least 13 armed insurgents were killed in a day of U.S. airstrikes in Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, a Sunni Arab region with a heavy insurgent presence.
“The U.S. military said it killed a total of 70 insurgents in Sunday’s airstrikes and, in a statement, said it knew of no civilian deaths.” ….
The funeral photograph was taken by Bilal Hussein, an Iraqi stringer working for the Associated Press. AP officials declined to make Hussein available for an interview, and National Journal was unable to contact him directly in Iraq….
A series of Hussein’s photographs illustrate another dilemma for photo editors — whether to publish images that may have been created for the photographer. Last September 17, in Ramadi, Hussein took pictures after a battle at a dusty intersection. At least one U.S. armored vehicle had been damaged and towed away, leaving behind its 40-foot dull-gray metal track tread. Hussein’s photographs showed the locals piling debris and auto tires onto the tread, and then celebrating as they lit a fire. Without the fire, smoke, and added debris, the photo would have presented a pretty uninteresting image of people looking at a leftover tank tread. With the smoke, fire, and debris, the image seemed to convey that a major battle had just taken place.
Weeks later, USA Today published a similar Hussein photograph from a different incident in Ramadi, which featured celebrating Sunnis, burning car tires, and a tank tread pulled over on its side.
Lyon said that AP bars photographers from asking people to change a scene, but that a crowd’s spontaneous decision to change a scene in front of a cameraman presents a different situation. “You have this [dilemma] every day all around the world,” he said. “There’s nothing new there.”
Bilal Hussein’s day in court should be illuminating, to say the least. No wonder the AP now objects.
Rusty’s not surprised by the AP’s reaction.
Bryan Preston has a suggestion: “Out of maintaining the thinnest veneer of objectivity, the AP ought to recuse itself from reporting on the Hussein case at all.”
Karl at Protein Wisdom revisits “The Big Picture(s).”