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A Break In The Case Of The Missing Police Captain

Well, it seems to be over. Jamil Hussein, an Iraqi police officer who Iraqi and US officials have said does not exist, is apparently a real person. Hussein was one of the primary sources behind an Associated Press story about a particularly troubling instance of sectarian violence in Baghdad: Suspected members of the Shiite Mahdi Army grabbing six Sunnis as they left worship services and burning them alive. He had also been identified as a source in a number of other AP stories. Conservative bloggers, who have questioned the AP's reporting from Iraq and its reliance on Hussein, have repeatedly called on the wire service to produce the captain. Many have suggested that the AP was trying to mislead the public about what was really happening in Iraq. The AP re-reported the story that started the debate, with additional sources, but it did not produce Hussein. Now we have this story from the AP:
The Interior Ministry acknowledged Thursday that an Iraqi police officer whose existence had been denied by the Iraqis and the U.S. military is in fact an active member of the force, and said he now faces arrest for speaking to the media.

Ministry spokesman Brig. Abdul-Karim Khalaf, who had previously denied there was any such police employee as Capt. Jamil Hussein, said in an interview that Hussein is an officer assigned to the Khadra police station, as had been reported by The Associated Press.

Khalaf offered no explanation Thursday for why the ministry had initially denied Hussein's existence, other than to state that its first search of records failed to turn up his full name. He also declined to say how long the ministry had known of its error and why it had made no attempt in the past six weeks to correct the public record.

About that possible arrest of Hussein: The AP reports that "Hussein appears to have fallen afoul of a new Iraqi push, encouraged by some U.S. advisers, to more closely monitor the flow of information about the country's violence, and strictly enforce regulations that bar all but authorized spokesmen from talking to media."

Some conservative bloggers have greeted the story as evidence that the time has come to give up their fight with the AP on this matter, while others are sticking to their criticisms. Here's Allahpundit: "[Michelle Malkin] and we were wrong about Jamil Hussein. Whether we're wrong about the rest of it, too, we'll see. Apologies, though, to…readers for having led you on a bit of a wild goose chase, however well founded and well intended our suspicions were." And Bill Faith: "Color this old dog very, very skeptical. So, the Iraqi Police may or may not arrest some dude and claim he's Jamil, then they may or may not put him in a line-up where the AP people can claim 'Yes we see him but we aren't going to identify him; must protect our sources, y'know,' and we're all supposed to just forget about all those sole-sourced stories that still don't check out?"

The best response to the story I've seen comes from National Review Online media critic and blogger Stephen Spruiell. Here's a bit:

The Iraqi Interior Ministry appears to have committed a colossal error here, and if the AP's reporting is correct, then the U.S. military and a number of conservative bloggers, myself included, gave the [Iraqi Interior Ministry] too much credit and the AP too little in the criticism that followed.

That said, the [Iraqi Interior Ministry] and CENTCOM were unequivocal in their statements about Jamil Hussein. It was not unreasonable for news consumers and media critics to expect the AP to respond to their allegations by producing a report like this one.

For its part, the AP should strive for more transparency on sourcing and stringers in order to prevent future incidents like this one. For their part, conservative bloggers and media critics need to tone down the rhetoric about collusion with the enemy. I'm not exempting myself from this criticism. We know that enemy propaganda makes its way into the Western press through sympathetic stringers and other means, but this is the exception and not the rule, and we need to be much more careful about stressing that fact.

And here's what I wrote about this back on December 4th:
In the end, where you stand on this one comes down to who you have faith in. Conservative bloggers tend to believe the military over a press corps that they feel is unworthy of their trust. Journalists, who are inherently distrustful of power, tend to trust their colleagues over the military. In an ideal world, both sides could put aside their prejudices and look objectively at the facts. Bloggers too often let their outrage cloud their judgment, and journalists can be too quick to dismiss criticism. The sooner both sides acknowledge as much, the better.
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