U.S. says AP photographer in Iraq will be charged

New York, November 20, 2007—The U.S. military has said it plans to prosecute an award-winning Associated Press photographer it has held for more than 19 months without charge for alleged links to Iraqi insurgents, but has not revealed evidence of the journalist’s alleged criminal wrongdoing.

The U.S. military informed the AP on Sunday that it would refer the case of detained photographer Bilal Hussein to the Iraqi justice system for possible prosecution because of his alleged links to Iraqi insurgents; however, U.S. officials have not revealed “new evidence” it says it has that implicates the journalist, the AP reported yesterday. The case against Hussein could be heard in Iraqi courts as early as November 29, the AP said. Although the military has not laid out what specific charges Hussein might face, the AP said that charges of aiding militants could carry a death sentence.

“That Bilal Hussein has been held for more than 19 months without charge and on the pretext of unsubstantiated, shifting allegations is deeply alarming,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “While we welcome the military’s belated attempt to give him his day in court, we are equally alarmed that he continues to be denied due process and that his legal team has no idea what the evidence is against him so they can prepare a proper defense.”

The AP quoted Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell as saying that the military decided to charge the journalist because “new evidence has come to light” in the case, adding that the military has “convincing and irrefutable evidence that Bilal Hussein is a threat to stability and security in Iraq as a link to insurgent activity.” Morrell called Hussein “a terrorist operative who infiltrated the AP.”

“That’s what the military has been saying for 19 months, but whenever we ask to see what’s so convincing we get back something that isn’t convincing at all,” AP Associate General Counsel Dave Tomlin said. The AP’s own investigation into Hussein’s case found no evidence that the photographer was guilty of wrongdoing, and believes he is being held for his journalistic work in Iraq’s Anbar province.

The AP has called the plan to prosecute Hussein a “sham of due process,” noting that they have been given no information on Hussein’s case and have been unable to mount a proper defense.

Hussein, an Iraqi citizen who worked as a freelance photographer for the AP in the volatile cities of Ramadi and Fallujah helped earn the news agency a Pulitzer Prize for photography in 2005 for his photographs documenting violence there. He was taken by U.S. forces on April 12 in Ramadi, the capital of Iraq’s Anbar province, and held in a U.S. prison in Iraq for “imperative reasons of security” on accusations of collaboration with Iraqi insurgents.

Since Hussein’s detention, U.S. officials have made numerous, shifting allegations against the journalist. After his detention, U.S. military officials accused Hussein of having prior knowledge of insurgent attacks on U.S. forces and filming those attacks. They have never substantiated the accusation. According to the AP, U.S. officials at one point alleged that Hussein was involved in the Iraqi insurgent kidnapping of two Arab journalists in Ramadi—a claim that was discredited after AP investigated. The two abducted journalists had not implicated Hussein in the kidnapping; they had instead praised him for his assistance when they were released. The military’s only evidence supporting its claim appeared to be images of the released journalists that were found in Hussein’s camera, AP said.

Hussein’s detention is not an isolated incident. Over the last three years, dozens of journalists—mostly Iraqis—have been detained by U.S. troops, according to CPJ research. While most have been released after short periods, in at least eight cases documented by CPJ Iraqi journalists have been held by U.S. forces for weeks or months without charge or conviction. In one highly publicized case, Abdul Ameer Younis Hussein, a freelance cameraman working for CBS, was detained after being wounded by U.S. military fire as he filmed clashes in Mosul in northern Iraq on April 5, 2005. U.S. military officials claimed footage in his camera led them to suspect Hussein had prior knowledge of attacks on coalition forces. In April 2006, a year after his arrest, Hussein was freed after an Iraqi criminal court, citing a lack of evidence, acquitted him of collaborating with insurgents.

In addition to Bilal Hussein, the U.S. military continues to hold Al-Jazeera cameraman Sami al-Haj in detention at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Al-Haj, first detained in Pakistan in December 2001, has not been charged or provided due process. CPJ outlined the case and called for due process in a special report in October 2006, “The Enemy?