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November 28, 2007

Free Bilal Hussein

Bleak news for imprisoned Iraqi journalist Bilal Hussein:

No one knows when Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein will have his day in court. It could be tomorrow. Or Thursday. Or any other day.
 
The lack of a schedule is a telling detail of the Central Criminal Court of Iraq, or CCCI, where Hussein's case will be heard.
 
Hussein, an Iraqi who has been held by the U.S. military as a security detainee since April 2006, will be brought before the court in Baghdad and accused of terrorist activity, the military says.
 
People familiar with the CCCI describe a crowded system where cases are decided quickly by judges who toil under constant threats.
 
Already, elements of the court system are working against Hussein. Hussein and his lawyer will probably not see the charges against him until a hearing where they are expected to present a defense.
 
What's more, even if the court acquits Hussein or dismisses his case, the U.S. military says it has the right to keep him in prison. [E&P/PDN]

It was announced last week that Hussein would face unspecified terror-related charges in Iraq's justice system. The free press advocacy group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) called on US authorities to maintain tranparency, now that they have finally publicly charged Hussein after more than a year-and-a-half of detention.

The authorities won't say exactly why they're holding Hussein, nor have they produced any evidence against him. Hussein told his lawyer that he was arrested after he invited two men into his home after an explosion rocked his neighborhood.

Photo District News thinks that a concerted propaganda campaign by right wing blogs may have been a factor in Hussein's arrest. The 36-year-old AP stringer had been bombarded with unsubstantiated accusations of faking his graphic war photographs and collaborating with insurgents:

Last week, The Jawa Report said a military source e-mailed to thank the blog for helping in the case against Bilal Hussein. The source told the blog he was an investigator at Abu Ghraib prison who recognized Hussein (who was held there for a time) as the much-criticized AP photographer, and notified his superiors. [PDN]

It's entirely possible that Hussein, as a journalist, had connections with insurgent groups. That was his job. To hear the right wing blogs, being embedded with our side is a great and glorious adventure. According to the author of the Jawa Report, being embedded with their side is a crime.

In an e-mail interview, the blogger known as Rusty (who refused to give any details identifying himself) told PDN why he initially thought Hussein's work was so suspicious. He said Hussein was producing photographs of two particular insurgent groups in Fallujah, the Army of Ansar al Sunnah and Tawid wal Jihad, or al-Qeada in Iraq.

"The groups, at the time, routinely murdered any one they believed to be a 'collaborater' or 'spy'. It was also when any foreigner they found they held hostage and then beheaded," the blogger wrote. "Yet Hussein was given free access."

Asked if he stood by his posts that implied Hussein should be killed, the blogger answered, "Ha, no. Not in the sense that I wish him dead. I don't believe in the death penalty. But I do believe in the killing of enemy combatants during actual battle. And propagandists are enemy combatants and should be treated as such." [PDN]

Hussein's attorney told investigators from the AP that his client was blindfolded for 9 days, offered a chance to become a paid mole inside the news organization, and told by an interrogator that his photographs were a threat.

Military Reporters and Editors delivered an open letter of protest to Pentagon on Hussein's behalf today. MRE declares Hussein's imprisonment "contrary to every notion of justice, fair play and the U.S. Constitution, which every member of America's military swears to uphold and defend."

The Digital Journalist is asking readers to email the members of the Senate Armed Services Committee to protest the detention of Bilal Hussein. Click through for email addresses of all committee members.

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Comments

There is an ur-Orwellian detail to the case, if I correctly recall an NPR interview with one of Hussein's lawyers.

The "charging document" alleges that he was "trained by al-qaeda in the use of terrorist weapons, namely cameras"

It's entirely possible that Hussein, as a journalist, had connections with insurgent groups. That was his job.

Michael Ware has had 'connections' with Sunni insurgents (of the ex-Baathist stripe) since 2003. But the US wouldn't dare treat him that way, as much as chickenshit warbloggers might have occasionally wished him a run-in with a hail of bullets. 'Propagandists are enemy combatants', indeed.

FELLOW JOURNALISTS: A CALL TO ACTION

Please immediately E-mail Members of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations at their office links below, about your concern regarding Bilal’s denial of Due Process by the U.S. Military through the Military’s refusal to name charges against Bilal in a timely manner for fair preparation of the Defense’s case.

Joseph R. Biden http://biden.senate.gov/contact/emailjoe.cfm

Richard G. Lugar [email protected]

Chris Dodd http://dodd.senate.gov/index.php?q=node/3128&cat=Opinion

John Kerry http://kerry.senate.gov/contact/email.cfm

Chuck Hagel http://hagel.senate.gov/index.cfm?FuseAction=Contact.Home

Norm Coleman http://coleman.senate.gov/index.cfm?FuseAction=Contact.ContactForm

Russ Feingold http://feingold.senate.gov/contact_opinion.html

Bob Corker http://corker.senate.gov/Contact/index.cfm

Barbara Boxer https://boxer.senate.gov/contact/email/policy.cfm

John E. Sununu http://www.sununu.senate.gov/webform.html

Bill Nelson http://billnelson.senate.gov/contact/email.cfm

George V. Voinovich http://voinovich.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=Contact.ContactForm

Senator Lisa Murkowski http://murkowski.senate.gov/contact.cfm#form

Robert Menendez http://menendez.senate.gov/contact/contact.cfm

Jim DeMint http://demint.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=Contact.Home

Benjamin l. Cardin http://cardin.senate.gov/contact/

Johnny Isakson http://isakson.senate.gov/contact.cfm

Robert P Casey http://casey.senate.gov/contact.cfm

David Vitter http://vitter.senate.gov/?module=webformiqv1

Jim Webb http://webb.senate.gov/contact/

```````````````````````````````````

SAMPLE LETTER

Due Process Denied

To the Honorable Senator ____

Dear Member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations

Please help our colleague, Pulitzer Prize winning AP photojournalist Bilal Hussein, obtain fair, reasonable and timely Due Process before December 9, 2007 when the U.S. Military will present official charges against him in an Iraqi court. The U.S. Military has refused to give him or his Defense timely notice of charges before this soon approaching court date.

This is denial of Due Process and is against our U. S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights. The U.S. Military arrested Bilal without charges in April of 2006, interrogated him in Abu Ghraib, and then held him in a Baghdad jail with no formal charges and without writ of habeas corpus for 19 months. Now our military is acting further in a non-Constitutional way in a foreign court and in, as of yet, a non-Democratic country with an overburdened and overcrowded court system. Also, since the Iraqi Court system is Shiite, we are very concerned for Bilal and that he receive fair treatment and a fair trial, since Bilal is Sunni.

According to former Federal prosecutor Paul Gardephe (please see his investigative report at http://hosted.ap.org/specials/interactives/_international/bilal_document/index.html) Bilal was blindfolded for nine days and was “asked” to spy as a journalist for our military. When Bilal refused, he was detained for 19 months without charges. Bilal will now be charged on “evidence” that was extracted just recently from him after 18 months of unconstitutional detainment and duress during an illegal interrogation with no legal council present.

Please assure me that this Iraqi journalist will obtain due process immediately, be given the assurance of justice from a fair trial, and that if Bilal is found innocent he should be released and not be returned to the U.S. Military, as they have so stated, for continued and indefinite confinement.

If these basic human rights cannot be immediately assured Bilal, then please see to it that Bilal is safely released from detainment as soon as humanly possible.

Thank you for your support and for your service.

Respectfully,

______

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