Magazine article Editor & Publisher

'Photo District News' Covers Latest on Bilal Hussein Case

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

'Photo District News' Covers Latest on Bilal Hussein Case

Article excerpt

One of Editor & Publisher's sister publications, Photo District News, had a few stories this week about detained AP photographer Bilal Hussein.

The leadoff story below was posted today.


Bilal Hussein Will Face Overloaded And Rushed Court System

By Daryl Lang

No one knows when Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein will have his day in court. It could be tomorrow. Or Thursday. Or any other day.

The lack of a schedule is a telling detail of the Central Criminal Court of Iraq, or CCCI, where Hussein's case will be heard.

Hussein, an Iraqi who has been held by the U.S. military as a security detainee since April 2006, will be brought before the court in Baghdad and accused of terrorist activity, the military says.

People familiar with the CCCI describe a crowded system where cases are decided quickly by judges who toil under constant threats.

Already, elements of the court system are working against Hussein. Hussein and his lawyer will probably not see the charges against him until a hearing where they are expected to present a defense.

What's more, even if the court acquits Hussein or dismisses his case, the U.S. military says it has the right to keep him in prison.

A New, Unstable Justice System

The Central Criminal Court of Iraq was established after the U.S. invasion in 2003 to handle serious criminal cases. It follows an inquisitional system, in which a judge decides the facts of a case, rather than an adversarial system like the one used in the U.S.

Iraq had no justice system under Saddam Hussein and its new system remains "unstable," according to Linda A. Malone, a professor at William & Mary School of Law who worked as a consultant to The Iraqi Special Tribunal.

"I think it is fair to say it's a very rustic process and a very overloaded process," Malone says. "I think they have far more cases in the pipeline right now than they can possibly handle."

One way the CCCI deals with overcrowding is to churn through cases quickly.

"What might take years in our court system can be done in 30 days there, if not sooner," says Capt. Stan Martin, an Army reservist and attorney in Palm Arbor, Fla.

Martin, who served as a Special Forces legal advisor in Iraq from November 2006 to April 2007, watched numerous captives pass through the CCCI in Baghdad. Investigative hearings would last three or four hours depending on the amount of evidence, he says. Following the hearings, trials would take place as soon as clerks could get them on the docket. Verdicts and sentences were announced the same day as the trial.

"It's a very rudimentary system," Martin says, noting that clerks keep records in the form of hand-written notes. "Remember from school the old ditto paper? They still use that."

A December 2006 New York Times article described a morning of back-to-back CCCI trails that lasted about 15 minutes each and were decided the same day.

The CCCI judges are mainly Shiites, Martin says, who endure very real threats to their lives and their families from militia groups. As a result, it was difficult to obtain convictions against members of Shiite militias, Martin says.

It also doesn't bode well for Sunnis like Bilal Hussein.

"I would not want to be a Sunni before the CCCI," Martin says. "Of course, I wouldn't want to be a Shia before the CCCI, either."

Not everyone shares Martin's experience. A staffer at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad who knows several CCCI judges said they include Shiites and Sunnis who take fairness very seriously.

CCCI judges can impose the death penalty in cases involving terrorism. Death penalty cases are automatically sent to an appellate court.

Hussein's legal process will begin with an investigative hearing. Hussein and his attorney will be called before a single Iraqi judge, who will hear the case presented by an Iraqi prosecutor. …

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