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AP Calls On Pentagon To Release Or Charge Detained Photographer

(AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)
This Sunday, the Associated Press went public with a call on the Pentagon to either release or bring charges against AP photographer Bilal Hussein, who has been detained in Iraq for five months. Yesterday, the Pentagon defended its decision to detain Hussein, "asserting that it has authority to imprison him indefinitely without charges because it believes he had improper ties to insurgents," wrote the AP yesterday. According to the AP on Sunday:
Military officials said Bilal Hussein, an Iraqi citizen, was being held for "imperative reasons of security" under United Nations resolutions. AP executives said the news cooperative's review of Hussein's work did not find anything to indicate inappropriate contact with insurgents, and any evidence against him should be brought to the Iraqi criminal justice system.

Hussein, 35, is a native of Fallujah who began work for the AP in September 2004. He photographed events in Fallujah and Ramadi until he was detained on April 12 of this year.

"We want the rule of law to prevail. He either needs to be charged or released. Indefinite detention is not acceptable," said Tom Curley, AP's president and chief executive officer. "We've come to the conclusion that this is unacceptable under Iraqi law, or Geneva Conventions, or any military procedure."

Hussein is one of an estimated 14,000 people detained by the U.S. military worldwide -- 13,000 of them in Iraq. They are held in limbo where few are ever charged with a specific crime or given a chance before any court or tribunal to argue for their freedom.

Pentagon spokesperson Bryan Whitman told the AP on Monday that "Hussein's detainment indicates that he has strong ties with known insurgents and that he was doing things, involved in activities, that were well outside the scope of what you would expect a journalist to be doing."

But AP Associate General Counsel Dave Tomlin said Whitman didn't address the fact that Bilal has not been provided a trial:

"Mr. Whitman says it would be `up to the central criminal court of Iraq' to charge Bilal with any wrongdoing. But the Iraqi court can't do that until the U.S. military hands over Bilal and whatever evidence they have against him to Iraqi authorities," Tomlin said.

"This is exactly what AP and Bilal are asking for," he said. "If the evidence isn't strong enough to support charges, however, Bilal should be released."

The whole situation brings to mind a similar battle between CBS and the Pentagon over the detention of Abdul Ameer Younis Hussein, and it's well worth reading a full account of his story here. Abdul was detained in Iraq for a year before his case went to trial, where he was acquitted based on a lack of evidence. Interestingly, Brian Montopoli reported after Abdul's release that a new rule was instituted by the U.S. military, intended to expedite the process of bringing charges against detained journalists:
Seemingly as a result of the Hussein case, as well as other cases involving journalists detained in Iraq, the military has instituted a rule in which journalists taken into custody would be treated as "almost unique" cases, in the words of Major General Jack Gardner, with the charges against them addressed swiftly.
Regarding Bilal's case, Gardner said in an e-mail to the AP:
Bilal "has close relationships with persons known to be responsible for kidnappings, smuggling, improvised explosive device (IED) attacks and other attacks on coalition forces."

"The information available establishes that he has relationships with insurgents and is afforded access to insurgent activities outside the normal scope afforded to journalists conducting legitimate activities," Gardner wrote to AP International Editor John Daniszewski.

The AP argues that "the military has not provided the company concrete evidence of its claims against Bilal Hussein, or provided him a chance to offer a defense."

Scott Horton, who worked on Abdul Ameer Younis Hussein's case, has been hired by the AP to work on Bilal's case. He told the AP that "several hundred journalists in Iraq have been detained, some briefly and some for several weeks." AP executives said that "it's not uncommon for AP news people to be picked up by coalition forces and detained for hours, days or occasionally weeks, but never this long."

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