The U.S. military in Iraq has imprisoned an Associated Press photographer for five months, accusing him of being a security threat but never filing charges or permitting a public hearing.
Military officials said Bilal Hussein, an Iraqi citizen, was being held for "imperative reasons of security" under United Nations resolutions. AP executives said the news cooperative's review of Hussein's work did not find anything to indicate inappropriate contact with insurgents, and any evidence against him should be brought to the Iraqi criminal justice system.
Hussein, 35, is a native of Fallujah who began work for the AP in September 2004. He photographed events in Fallujah and Ramadi until he was detained on April 12 of this year.
"We want the rule of law to prevail. He either needs to be charged or released. Indefinite detention is not acceptable," said Tom Curley, AP's president and chief executive officer. "We've come to the conclusion that this is unacceptable under Iraqi law, or Geneva Conventions, or any military procedure."
Hussein is one of an estimated 14,000 people detained by the U.S. military worldwide - 13,000 of them in Iraq. They are held in limbo where few are ever charged with a specific crime or given a chance before any court or tribunal to argue for their freedom.
In Hussein's case, the military has not provided any concrete evidence to back up the vague allegations they have raised about him, Curley and other AP executives said.
The military said Hussein was captured with two insurgents, including Hamid Hamad Motib, an alleged leader of al-Qaida in Iraq. "He has close relationships with persons known to be responsible for kidnappings, smuggling, improvised explosive device (IED) attacks and other attacks on coalition forces," according to a May 7 e-mail from U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Jack Gardner, who oversees all coalition detainees in Iraq.
"The information available establishes that he has relationships with insurgents and is afforded access to insurgent activities outside the normal scope afforded to journalists conducting legitimate activities," Gardner wrote to AP International Editor John Daniszewski.
Hussein proclaims his innocence, according to his Iraqi lawyer, Badie Arief Izzat, and believes he has been unfairly targeted because his photos from Ramadi and Fallujah were deemed unwelcome by the coalition forces.
That Hussein was captured at the same time as insurgents doesn't make him one of them, said Kathleen Carroll, AP's executive editor.
"Journalists have always had relationships with people that others might find unsavory," she said. "We're not in this to choose sides, we're to report what's going on from all sides."
AP executives in New York and Baghdad have sought to persuade U.S. officials to provide additional information about allegations against Hussein and to have his case transferred to the Iraqi criminal justice system. The AP contacted military leaders in Iraq and the Pentagon, and later the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad.
The AP has worked quietly until now, believing that would be the best approach. But with the U.S. military giving no indication it would change its stance, the news cooperative has decided to make public Hussein's imprisonment, hoping the spotlight will bring attention to his case and that of thousands of others now held in Iraq, Curley said.
One of Hussein's photos was part of a package of 20 photographs that won a Pulitzer Prize for breaking news photography last year. His contribution was an image of four insurgents in Fallujah firing a mortar and small arms during the U.S.-led offensive in the city in November 2004.