US accuses Iraqi photojournalist of aiding insurgents

From the New York Times, Nov. 21:

The American military is sending an Iraqi photographer for The Associated Press it accuses of aiding the insurgency into Iraq’s criminal justice system, according to the American authorities and The A.P.

The photographer, Bilal Hussein, was part of an 11-member team that won a Pulitzer Prize for breaking news photography in 2005. He has been detained without charge since April 2006.

A spokesman for the American military in Iraq, Maj. Brad Leighton, said Mr. Hussein was held after soldiers found explosive devices, insurgency propaganda and surveillance photographs of an installation for American-led forces during a routine patrol when they entered his apartment in 2006.

His lawyer, Paul Gardephe, said that the allegations were unfounded and that the American authorities had not disclosed any specific charges to be brought against Mr. Hussein. Mr. Gardephe said that in e-mail messages and other correspondence, military officials had alluded to further allegations, including that Mr. Hussein had made offers to provide false identity papers to an Iraqi sniper seeking to elude American custody, and that he had taken photographs so synchronous with bomb attacks that it seemed that he had prior knowledge of the attacks.

The Pentagon press secretary, Geoff Morrell, was quoted by The A.P. on Monday as saying that the military had “convincing and irrefutable evidence that Bilal Hussein is a threat to stability and security in Iraq as a link to insurgent activity.” He called Mr. Hussein “a terrorist operative who infiltrated The A.P.”

Mr. Gardephe said that the news agency had investigated Mr. Hussein’s work, which included interviews with Mr. Hussein, 36, and an examination of the 400 photographs he produced for The A.P., and that it had found no evidence supporting the military’s allegations.

Kathleen Carroll, executive editor of The A.P., said in an interview: “We believe that Bilal Hussein has been singled out because of his work as a journalist. While we are glad that there is finally some development that may lead to the end of his imprisonment without charges, we are concerned still about the lack of specificity against him. We have long said that Bilal Hussein was nothing more than a reputable A.P. journalist doing his job, and our position about that has not changed.”

Mr. Hussein owned a small electrical shop in Falluja, where he lived, when he was recommended to The A.P. and started working as a local fixer and guide before becoming a photojournalist. He covered the American invasion of Falluja in 2004 before being reassigned to Ramadi. The A.P. employs 200 people in Iraq, including reporters, photographers and television reporters, and the majority are Iraqis.

Mr. Hussein’s work focused on the effects of the war on Iraqi civilians, said Mr. Gardephe.

He was arrested in April 2006, when soldiers sought entry to his apartment in Ramadi during what they described as a routine search after an explosion on a nearby street. Military officials said they had found photographs of insurgents, which might be construed as propaganda, inside the apartment, Mr. Gardephe said.

Mr. Gardephe said that many part-time journalists working for foreign news agencies were arrested at that time in Anbar Province, but that while the others were released after four to five months Mr. Hussein had remained in detention. He has been kept at Camp Crocker near the Baghdad airport.

“They will not tell me what allegations they are planning to allege,” Mr. Gardephe said. “Nor do I know what evidence they have.”

The American authorities said they intended to file the charges this month. Mr. Hussein’s case would be heard before an investigative judge who would determine what evidence to consider and what witnesses to call, and whether the case should then pass to trial before three judges.

The only other journalist to be transferred to the Iraqi central criminal court, Mr. Gardephe said, was a CBS cameraman, Abdul Ameer Younis Hussein, who was arrested by the American military in March 2005 and held for a year. He was transferred to the Iraqi court in March 2006 and was acquitted that month, Mr. Gardephe said.

See our last posts on Iraq and attacks on journalists.