Stringers In Tight Places

Yesterday, The Wall Street Journal and New York Times told the story of Abdul Ameer Younis Hussein, an Iraqi cameraman for CBS News, who has been detained by the U.S. military "for alleged insurgent activity." Hussein had been shot in the thigh by an American sniper while filming in Mosul after a suicide bombing and was taken into custody while recovering.

As the Wall Street Journal notes in a correction to its original story, CBS "hasn't taken the position that it knows" Hussein is innocent. But the network has argued that the U.S. government has not made evidence available of his guilt.

For us, the situation has illuminated the unique challenges faced by Iraqis employed by foreign news organizations.

Western media organizations say their Iraqi employees are regularly detained by the U.S. military for reasons that are unclear. Iraqi employees of CNN, Associated Press Television News, and Agence France-Presse, and Reuters have been detailed for extended periods, and three of the Reuters employees claimed after their release that they were abused by American interrogators. According to the New York Times, American commanders believe that Iraqi reporters who arrive at the scene of an attack too quickly likely have ties to insurgents; their advocates counter that the Iraqi reporters and cameramen are often merely acting on tips.

PE talked with Randall Joyce, a London-based producer for CBS News who is acting Baghdad bureau chief, about the challenges facing CBS News' Iraqi employees, and the reasons the network uses them.


"There are a lot of places where it is easier for an Iraqi to go, because of the security situation here," Joyce says. "It's always an issue at this point when foreigners – especially Americans or British people, but basically any foreigners at this point – go on the road and go out and travel around. It's no big secret that the insurgents have a technique of kidnapping foreigners and holding them for ransom or killing them."

But the Iraqi employees, he says, have to take care not to let people know exactly what they're up to. "We're always worried that the Iraqis working for us are at a greater risk, especially because they are working for an American television network. A lot of the people who work for us have to be very quiet about who they work for, because the insurgents make no difference between working for an American news organization and working for what they consider to be the American occupation."

We've posted a six-minute audiofile of our interview with Joyce, who spoke to us from Baghdad. You can listen to it here.