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September 25, 2006

Iraqi photographer Bilal Hussein held without trial

A Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist is being held by the US military in Iraq without charge.

Bilal Hussein and his AP team won the 2005 Pulitzer in the category of Breaking News Photography for their stunning series of photographs of bloody yearlong combat inside Iraqi cities."  Mr. Hussein's contribution to the prize-winning portofolio can be viewed here.

Hussein has been in custody for five months, but I hadn't heard about his case until I read Bob Herbert's impassioned plea for due process for the AP photographer.

You can read most of Herbert's column here.

Herbert describes how Mr. Hussein was captured by the US, and his subsequent fate:

Mr. Hussein was taken to a hospital. His camera and videotapes were seized. And despite his CBS press credentials, which were checked out and found to be legitimate, he was arrested by U.S. authorities and imprisoned. Much of his time over the course of the next year was spent in solitary confinement at the Abu Ghraib prison, where he was subjected to coercive interrogation and other indignities.

Here is the AP's own detailed account of the accusations against Bilal Hussein such as they are--he was allegedly arrested in the company of two other accused insurgents in an apartment that allegedly contained bomb-making materials. Of course, we have no idea whether any of this is true because there has been no due process for any of these people, nor any public review of the evidence against them.

The Pentagon continues to insist on its right to detain Mr. Hussein without trial, despite pleas by AP lawyers to give Mr. Hussein his day in court. The AP is calling on the US military to either transfer the jailed photographer to the Iraqi justice system or let him go.

Bilal Hussein's name may not be a household word in mainstream society, but the right wing blogosphere has been gunning for him for months.

The chickenhawks couldn't even bear to look at Hussein's pictures of close combat. So, they convinced themselves that these horrors must have been contrived.

Journalistic ethics charges fell flat against Hussein. It's worth noting that one member of the five-person jury that bestowed the Pulitzer is the director of photography for the Washington Times and a Pulitzer laureate in his own right.

Now, the wingnuts are accusing Hussein of collaborating with the insurgents. Their evidence? His pictures are too real. Nobody could ever get that close to an insurgent unless he was an insurgent himself! Besides, the US arrested him, and they would never do that if he weren't guilty.

If you googled "Bilal Hussein" circa 4:30 pm today over 70% of the top 100 hits were right wing blogs (not news reports, not websites, but specifically high-traffic right wing blogs): Michelle Malkin, Sir Humphrey's, Jawa Report, Ace of Spades, Pajamas Media, Rhiel World View, Jihad Watch, Newsbusters, bRight and Early, Tailrank linking to right wing bloggers linking to Michelle Malkin excoriating Hussein and the AP (including Jeff Gannon, Sister Toldjah, and Little Green Footballs), A Blog For All (Lawyerhawk), Never Yet Melted (a blog with a sidebar button that reads "Islamophobic and Proud of It"), and GOP Video just to name a few. The largest of these blogs had several posts each in the top 100.

Did it ever occur to these numbskulls that journalists are supposed to be independent? If you're going to cover the news, you've got to approach both sides. They're always complaining about bias, but they act as if reporters who can approach insurgents without getting blown away on sight are necessarily traitors. Their darling, the recently deceased Oriana Fallaci interviewed the The Ayatollah Khomeini just after the Iranian revolution. The fact that this doesn't bother the right is a vote in their favor. At some level they must realize that journalists often talk to unsavory people, and that guilt by mere association is a logical fallacy.

Matthew LaPlante, a reporter who met Hussein last year in Iraq, has an excellent post about the background to Hussein's arrest and the implications for all un-embedded war correspondents. Here's another good article by Greg Sargent about how Powerline is distorting the AP's statements about Bilal Hussein.

The AP agrees that Bilal Hussein had better access to the insurgents than most other Western-affiliated journalists in Iraq. Therefore, he was able to actually report on what they were doing. You'd think that sort of information would be valuable to the US military as much as anyone else. But accurate reporting from the battlefield is the last thing the Pentagon wants.

So, they've declared Hussein dangerous, dragged him off to Abu Ghraib, tortured him, and left him locked up. They've had him for five months, and they still don't have enough evidence against him to charge him, let alone try him.

This is not about fighting the Iraqi insurgency, or the war on terror, this is about terrorizing all independent journalists in Iraq, and by extension, all independent journalists.

Think about the precedent the Pentagon is setting. US authorities are asserting their right to jail anyone indefinitely on secret evidence. How are reporters supposed to cover national security or war if any attempt to learn about the other side could get you thrown in jail indefinitely?

The power to whisk inconvenient people away with no explanation will corrupt anyone who wields it. These tactics will won't be confined to the battlefield and they won't be restricted to journalists.

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Comments

We've just got to keep repeating the truth, over and over. I think liberals are often afraid to hammer home their key points repeatedly. There's a sense that once you've said something, you should really move on to the next thing.

I think that we're going to need a lot of repetition in order to get people to believe the truth about the war and the party that led us into it on false pretenses.

Someone once wrote that, but I can't remember who. In the spirit of what this great anonymous soul wrote I'll repeat what once again bears repeating: We live in a police state. Not as bad Nazi Germany or Stalinist Russia, but it's a police state all the same. If we can deny anyone due process and habeas corpus, then that makes us a nation where men like the President, the VP, the Defense Secretary, and others right down the line are ruling by decree and not by law. That makes America a police state.

If the Democrats manage to win back both houses of Congress (a big "if", considering their recent trend of blowing one opportunity after another) I hope they promptly investigate all these wrongdoings and attempt to reverse the damage that's been done to our democracy by this President. If they don't then they're no better than the rubber stamp Republicans currently in power. Then look out, Canada, cuz here I come.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

This sounds detestable. I have a hard time finding any proof that the people running our executive branch have the slightest regard for the Constitution they swore to uphold. I hope to be proved wrong; I am open to any citations of occasions where they did so.

As a kid, I remember paying very close attention to the stories of Jews who stayed in Nazi Germany despite the mounting evidence that they were in danger, along with, ultimately, everyone else in their country. I'm not saying that Republican Hegemony is a threat on the level of the Nazis, or even that it's likely to become one.

My point is simply that everyone creates a theory about why they're never going to be next--to insulate themselves from mounting evidence of increasingly severe civil rights violations. Everyone's got their theory: I'm a veteran, I'm a patriot, I'm a journalist protected by the First Amendment, I'm a doctor, I'm a senior government scientist, I'm an ordained minister, a democratically elected official, I'm a Republican..... Or whatever.

Always some reason why it's bound to stop way before me, or anyone I love. And still, the violations creep closer and closer to home.

Edit:

This sounds detestable. I have a hard time finding any proof that the people running our executive branch have shown the slightest regard for the Constitution they swore to uphold. I hope to be proved wrong; I am open to any citations of occasions where they did so.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

As a kid, I remember paying very close attention to the stories of Jews who stayed in Nazi Germany despite the mounting evidence that they were in danger, along with, ultimately, everyone else in their country.

Me too, Lindsay. My father's family only escaped Germany in April of 1939, after almost dying following the Kristallnacht, and my English mother's family didn't escape China in time at all--fleeing, they arrived in Manila an hour before one ship was to leave, and 8 hours before the next ship was to leave; the one leaving in an hour was too full, and the one to leave in 8 hours never left. She spent three years in an internment camp, and almost starved to death. These experiences made me think that it's a very important lesson: if you can avoid being part of a mass of panicking people, do so.

My point is simply that everyone creates a theory about why they're never going to be next--to insulate themselves from mounting evidence of increasingly severe civil rights violations. Everyone's got their theory: I'm a veteran, I'm a patriot, I'm a journalist protected by the First Amendment, I'm a doctor, I'm a senior government scientist, I'm an ordained minister, a democratically elected official, I'm a Republican..... Or whatever.

Always some reason why it's bound to stop way before me, or anyone I love. And still, the violations creep closer and closer to home.

I believe this is the case of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ulrich_von_Hassell>Ulrich von Hassell, son-in-law of Grand Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz, who was wounded in the First World War. He welcomed Hitler initially, because he felt Germany had been wronged by the Versailles Treaty, hoped for Anschluss with Austria and a union with the Sudeten German area of Czechoslovakia, and felt that his class would be protected and advocated for by Hitler. He was shocked, though, at the Nazis' treatment of the Poles and the Jews, and by their march to general war, and opposed Hitler's foreign policy. He was retired by the Nazis in 1942, probably feeling very shocked indeed by then, and was executed by Hitler for being one of the key figures in conspiracy against him. I'm glad there were some good people like him that remained in Germany, but I hate that he was inevitably hanged. Most of those who were anti-Hitler were hanged or guillotined, the subtle, like Admiral Canaris, the more careless, like some of those under Canaris, and the extremely careless (though worthy of all honour), like Sophie Scholl. You wonder: was there nothing left but flight for them? And what about the people of America, then?

By a complete coincidence, I was at Barnes and Noble last week and saw Franz Kafka's book, The Trial, sitting on the shelf. It's a book I've meant to read for at least ten years, but never have. I didn't know much about the book, other than Kafka's reputation. It is truly a book for our times. The opening sentence:

"Someone must have been telling lies about Joseph K, for without having done anything wrong he was arrested one fine morning."

I had assumed, beforehand, that this book would be sort of like a George Orwell novel, or Aldus Huxley, dark and grim, about a totalitarian society. It's not. It's about a society that believes itself to be ruled by laws. Instead, the emphasis is mostly on the absurd, and there are parts that are almost comic. The officials of the government are so bumbling and corrupt that one can't help but laugh at them sometimes.

Throughout it all, Joseph K is never told what the charges are against him. Yet he still must defend himself.

Appropriate reading for our times.

If the wingnuts are that eager to keep a photographer caged, they must be getting awfully uncomfortable about what’s happening in Iraq. The worse things get there, the more likely the messenger will be shot.

Re: Who will be the last one the fascists come for. I recently re-read a Hitler era diary written by a very conservative Prussian aristocrat, Friedrich Reck-Malleczewen, who, all things considered, should never have crossed the Nazi radar screen, but who got it in the end because he saw the fascist vulgarians for what they were and wasn’t careful enough to keep his mouth shut. “Diary of a Man in Despair” by Friedrich Reck-Malleczewen, ISBN: 0715630008. Disturbing when I first read it twenty years ago, now on re-reading, scary enough to be almost unbearable.

Lawrence K (sorry, I couldn't resist the "K" reference):

I read The Trial about 10 years ago, maybe around the time you first started to think about reading it. I don't know if you've finished it so I won't ruin the ending. It is such a disturbing story; not American Psycho-type of disturbing, but 1984-type disturbing). You're right; it's not Orwellian in its portrayal of the powers that be, but all the same they DO have the power. I think that's what makes it even scarier. I consider it a must-read for any thinking adult. It should be required in high school if you ask me, instead of fucking Julius Caesar. (Don't get me wrong; I love most of The Bard's tragedies. But I don't think Julius Caesar is one of his better ones. Yeah, yeah; "Et tu, Brute" and "Friends, Romans, countrymen, yada, yada, yada". Titus is better, yet we're forced to deal with great Caesar's ghost. But anyway.)

And now for something completely different.

>but 1984-type disturbing

Hey, so what are you saying?

:D (had to)

>And now

"Simply super having this lovely little chat with you. Bye-oo-hoohoo!"

"Coo-ee! Defendant!"

"There's nowt wrong wi' gala luncheons! I've 'ad more gala luncheons than you've 'ad hot dinners! And don't you forget it!"

John, stop taking me there. This is a serious thread. No Python references. Anyway.

Let's see....

- state-approved propaganda source? check
- reporters detained without trial? check
- people jailed and tortured without habeas corpus? check
- non-threatening nations invaded to impose our will on locals? check

Golly, we're well on our way to a Stalinist state! Good job, Bush!

Constitution, shmonstitution, that's what I'm saying.

This is so outrageous. We don't just live in a police state, we live in the first theocratic police state in a modern industrial country.

"Never put a period where God has put a comma" -- everything that's screwed up is the fault of Clinton and the godless Democrats. http://letterfromhere.blogspot.com/2006/09/serenely-bush-sails-on-across-sea-of.html>Serenely, Bush sails on, across a sea of commas. Forget about an "October Surprise," prepare for a "November Surprise" instead -- after the election. That looks to be Bush's best chance to try to clean up Iraq once and for all by going after Iran and bringing real democracy to the Middle East at last, before any meddling new Congress can stop him. Bush knows everything will be fine. He's working his way through the commas and approaching the end of the sentence. He's the democracy-bringer, and he's doing God's will.

There was a story in Salon.com a while ago by a man who had met Bush at an event while he was on the campaign trail, I think while Bush was governor in Texas. The man said something to the effect that, "Mr. Bush, I'm afraid I can't vote for you. I find your policies have been damaging to us, etc." Bush said to him: "Who cares what you think?" A perfect jock response. The man grabbed a pen and pad of paper to write down Bush's response, and when Bush noticed this, figured the guy was a reporter, and started grinning, bobbing his head up over the crowd of people, saying over and over, "who are you with?" "Who are you with?", obviously in order to try to start a reporter-intimidation process going.

Probably not the best man to ensure freedom of the press.

Bilal Hussein's photograph reminds me very much of several of the photos taken by Susan Meiselas in Nicaragua and El Salvador in 1979-80.

So does photograph #16 -- an image that, I'm guessing, meets with the full approval of the Powerline/LGF/Malkin crowd.

Bilal Hussein's execution images remind me of Eddie Adams' famous photograph, Vietcong Execution.

Always some reason why it's bound to stop way before me, or anyone I love. And still, the violations creep closer and closer to home.

Why the hell are you writing a midsize blog instead of a nationally syndicated op-ed column?

"It is such a disturbing story; not American Psycho-type of disturbing, but 1984-type disturbing). You're right; it's not Orwellian in its portrayal of the powers that be, but all the same they DO have the power. I think that's what makes it even scarier."

I have read to the ending, and yes, it is especially scary in the current circumstances because it is not Orwellian. America in 2006 is not overtly totalitarian. Rather, we still believe ourselves to be a nation of laws. That's the most maddening thing about the country depicted in The Trial, the officials are proud of the way they are following the law, even where the law makes no sense and leads to obvious injustice everywhere. Joseph K must mount his defense without knowing what the charges are against him. At one point he starts writing a petition that is an overview of his whole life, including every decision someone might have held against him, and his defense of that decision, or, where he felt he'd been in the wrong, how he made amends. I imagine Bilal Hussein must feel a little like that now.

The one great advantage that Joseph K had over Bilal Hussein is that Joseph K was never physically tortured. He was tormented by The Law, but not physically tortured. In that regard, America is already closer to being a totalitarian state than the one depicted in The Trial.

"Why the hell are you writing a midsize blog instead of a nationally syndicated op-ed column?"

I have the impression that her blog is more influential than it's numbers would suggest. Also, the overall importance of blogs, relative to the mainstream media, continues to increase. All the same, I'd be happy to see her writing brought before a wider audience.

The thing is, this could be LB.

Dear Lindsey,
I read your column defending Bilal Hussein. You defended him saying that the job of a journalist is to show both sides of the story.
We are in a war. There is one side- ours. American soldiers were fighting and dying against the terrorists in Bilal's pictures. Bilal was a clear partisan and his pictures make that obvious.
Bilal should count himself lucky. As a former soldier who served in Iraq I know what I where he should be now. He should have been shot dead with the other terrorists he was with in those pictures. He stood with them in their lines and he should have faced their fate.

Our soldiers are hero's. You should be behind them and not defending those who are trying to kill them and have committed horrors against the Iraqi people.
Sincerely,
Brian Ericksen

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