AP Chief Slams Case Against Photographer

The Associated Press
Saturday, November 24, 2007; 5:22 PM

NEW YORK -- 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, AP President and CEO Tom Curley said Saturday.

"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," Curley wrote in an opinion piece in The Washington Post.

The U.S. military notified the AP last weekend that it intended to submit a written complaint against Bilal Hussein that would bring the case into the Iraqi justice system as early as Nov. 29.

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.

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.

The 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, former federal prosecutor Paul Gardephe, since announcing its intentions to seek a case against him.

He also said 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.

© 2007 The Associated Press