NEW YORK, NY - Associated Press president and CEO Tom Curley has written an Op-Ed piece in The Washington Post titled "Railroading A Journalist In Iraq." In the article, Curley expresses his concerns about the lack of due process in the case of long-imprisoned AP photographer Bilal Hussein.
"The U.S. military is making a mockery of American democratic principles by bringing a criminal case against an Associated Press photographer in Iraq without disclosing the charges against him," Curley said Saturday in New York.
"We believe Bilal's crime was taking photographs the U.S. government did not want its citizens to see," Curley said.
Meanwhile, today AP's director of photography Santiago Lyon says that he doubts whether any of what's happened to Bilal Hussein would have happened to an American photojournalist, and for the first time talked about the details of how Hussein was initial taken into custody on April 12, 2006, while at home in his apartment.
Lyon talked about Hussein's case today when the AP photo chief appeared on The Leonard Lopate Show on WNYC New York Public Radio.
"They asked him [Hussein] for his ID, and when they saw his name they handcuffed him and took him downstairs to an electrical supply shop in the same building, and against his objections they photographed him standing in front of a bunch of electrical supplies. And then took him away, and said that he'd been arrested 'with the type of equipment that you need to make IED explosive devices with,' and they accused him of effectively belonging to the insurgency," Lyon said on the radio show.
"The accusations against Bilal have changed over time," Lyon explained. "More recently they've said he's a terrorist media operative who's infiltrated the Associated Press. We've conducted our own extensive internal investigation, into the photographs that he took and that we transmitted, including retaining a U.S. lawyer who is a formal federal prosecutor [to investigate Hussein], and everything we've turned up says that he's nothing more than a dedicated Iraqi photojournalist who is telling the story of his country, albiet aspects of that story were connected to the insurgency in terms of documenting insurgency activity, and that would appear to us to be the main reason for his detention."
"What we're asking the military for is to see the evidence, to hear the charges ... We think that as part of due process, our lawyers and Bilal's lawyer have the right to see what the charges are, and to have it formalized," Lyon said.
During today's radio show, Lyon told Lopate that before the war Hussein was not working as a photographer, but worked in a small electronics shop in Fallujah, and that he was introduced to Lyon in September 2004 by an AP driver and Hussein became a guide for them in Fallujah. At that time Hussein expressed an interest in photography, Lyon said, and told him that he'd been interested in photography since an early age. "We did with him what we do with may people in Iraq who eventually become AP employees, we gauged his interest, gave him equipment and trained him in the ethics and standards of what we do, and soon enough he began to make pictures for us on a regular basis and we contracted his services full-time."
About how the U.S. military has handled Hussein's case, Curley wrote in the Op-Ed piece in the Post: "This is a poor example — and not the first of its kind — of the way our government honors the democratic principles and values it says it wants to share with the Iraqi people."
Military officials have refused to disclose the content of the complaint to the AP, despite repeated requests. Hussein's lawyer will enter the case "blind," with no idea of the evidence or charges, Curley wrote.
"In the 19 months since he was picked up, Bilal has not been charged with any crime, although the military has sent out a flurry of ever-changing claims. Every claim we've checked out has proved to be false, overblown or microscopic in significance," said Curley.
The entire independent report, by former federal prosecutor Paul G. Gardephe, who now works for Patterson Belkanp Webb & Tyler in New York City, can be downloaded as an Adobe Acrobat .PDF file here (8.1MB PDF).
Gardephe's report details how Hussein was interrogated more than 30 times following his arrest, first while being held in Ramadi and then later in Abu Ghraib prison. Iraqis interrogated him twice, and the remaining session were conducted by U.S. military forces. Until recently he was not interrogated again, after the middle of May when he was moved to Camp Cropper.
Hussein told Gardephe that at first, U.S. military interrogators tried to recruit him to be a paid informant for them while continuing to work as an AP photographer, offering him more pay and better equipment. Hussein said he rejected the offer "because of his commitment to his profession, to the AP, and to his country," the report states [Section VI, B, 1, "Subjects of Interrogation," page 30].
Hussein, a 36-year-old native of Fallujah, was part of the AP's Pulitzer Prize-winning photo team in 2005. He was detained in Ramadi on April 12, 2006.
Lyon said that he has not been able to personally talk with Hussein, but that the AP photojournalist has been visited in the military jail by AP representatives and that Hussein is being held in Camp Cropper outside of Baghdad, where the military holds their "high value" detainees. Lyon said Hussein has also been able to visit with some of his family members while he's been held without charges in jail.
The U.S. military has alleged that Hussein had links to terrorist groups but the AP's own intensive investigations of the case have found no support for allegations that Hussein was anything other than a working journalist in a war zone.
"We believe Bilal's crime was taking photographs the U.S. government did not want its citizens to see. That he was part of a team of AP photographers who had just won a Pulitzer Prize for work in Iraq may have made Bilal even more of a marked man," Curley wrote.
U.S. officials have asserted that Hussein offered to provide false identification to a sniper seeking to evade U.S.-led forces, that he possessed bomb-making equipment, and that he took photographs that were synchronized with insurgent blasts. The AP has found no corroboration of the accusations.
An American military spokesman in Iraq denied Saturday that the U.S. was bringing charges against Hussein, saying instead that it was merely presenting evidence to the Iraqis.
"It's not like our system," Maj. Bradford Leighton said. "The evidence is presented to a judge and the judge makes the decision whether the case goes forward."
He said that Curley's column reflected a "fundamental misunderstanding of the Iraqi court system as well as the detainee process."
Curley said the military has refused to answer questions from Hussein's attorney since announcing its intentions to seek a case against him.
He also said attorney Gardephe learned that Hussein had been interrogated recently for the first time in over 16 months, without his lawyer present, presumably to gain evidence to be used against him in the upcoming trial.
The military has leaked baseless allegations against Hussein to friendly media outlets, Curley wrote, but it will not even share the exact date of the hearing with the AP.
"How is Gardephe to defend Bilal? This affair makes a mockery of the democratic principles of justice and the rule of law that the United States says it is trying to help Iraq establish," Curley wrote