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.