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U.S. Will Finally Bring Charges against Photographer in Iraq -- AP Calls It a 'Sham'

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

U.S. Will Finally Bring Charges against Photographer in Iraq -- AP Calls It a 'Sham'

Article excerpt

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.

[UPDATE: AFP reports late Monday, "The U.S. 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."]

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.

The AP says various accusations have been floated unofficially against Hussein and then apparently been withdrawn with little explanation.

Tomlin said the AP has faced chronic difficulties in meeting Hussein at the Camp Cropper detention facility in Baghdad and its own intensive investigations of the case--conducted by a former federal prosecutor, Paul Gardephe--have found no support for allegations that he was anything other than a working journalist in a war zone.

"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. …

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