AFP: US military brings charges against Bilal Hussein in Iraqi criminal court.
The US military has filed a formal complaint with an Iraqi criminal court accusing a detained, award-winning Associated Press photographer of being a “terrorist media operative,” the Pentagon said Monday.
Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon press secretary, said the military made the complaint about Bilal Hussein, who has been held for more than 19 months without charges in US military custody, to Iraq’s Central Criminal Court.
“We believe Bilal Hussein was a terrorist media operative who infiltrated the AP,” he said. “MNF-I possesses convincing and irrefutable evidence that Bilal Hussein is a threat to security and stability as a link to insurgent activity.”
Morrell said an investigative hearing into the case by the court is scheduled to begin on or after November 28.
Hussein was detained April 12, 2006 after marines entered his house in Ramadi to establish a temporary observation post and found bomb-making materials, insurgent propaganda and a surveillance photograph of a US military installation.
Morrell said Hussein, who was part of an AP photo team that won a Pulitzer Prize in 2005, had previously aroused suspicion because he was often at the scene insurgent attacks as they occurred.
He said other evidence, which he would not describe, came to light after his detention “that makes it clear that Mr. Hussein is a terrorist media operative who infiltrated the AP.”
But the Associated Press is still vehemently defending its Al Qaeda-affiliated photographer.
The U.S. military plans to seek a criminal case in an Iraqi court against an award-winning Associated Press photographer but is refusing to disclose what evidence or accusations would be presented.
An AP attorney on Monday strongly protested the decision, calling the U.S. military plans a “sham of due process.” The journalist, Bilal Hussein, has already been imprisoned without charges for more than 19 months.
In Washington, Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell explained the decision to bring charges now by saying “new evidence has come to light” about Hussein, but said the information would remain in government hands until the formal complaint is filed with Iraqi authorities.
Morrell asserted the military has “convincing and irrefutable evidence that Bilal Hussein is a threat to stability and security in Iraq as a link to insurgent activity” and called Hussein “a terrorist operative who infiltrated the AP.”
AP Associate General Counsel Dave Tomlin rejected the claim: “That’s what the military has been saying for 19 months, but whenever we ask to see what’s so convincing we get back something that isn’t convincing at all.”
The case has drawn attention from press groups as another example of the complications for Iraqis chronicling the war in their homelandâ€”including death squads that target local journalists working for Western media and apparent scrutiny from U.S. intelligence agents.
A public affairs officer notified the AP on Sunday that the military intends to submit a written complaint against Hussein that would bring the case into the Iraqi justice system as early as Nov. 29. Under Iraqi codes, an investigative magistrate will decide whether there are grounds to try Hussein, 36, who was seized in the western Iraqi city of Ramadi on April 12, 2006.
Tomlin said the defense for Hussein is being forced to work “totally in the dark.”
The military has not yet defined the specific charges against Hussein. Previously, the military has pointed to a range of suspicions that attempt to link him to insurgent activity.
The AP also contends it has been blocked by the military from mounting a comprehensive defense for Hussein, who was part of the AP’s Pulitzer Prize-winning photo team in 2005.
Soon after Hussein was taken into custody, the AP appealed to the U.S. military either to release him or bring the case to trialâ€”saying there was no evidence to support his detention. However, Tomlin said that the military is now attempting to build a case based on “stale” evidence and discredited testimony. He also noted that the U.S. military investigators who initially handled the case have left the country. …
While we are hopeful that there could be some resolution to Bilal Hussein’s long detention, we have grave concerns that his rights under the law continue to be ignored and even abused,” said AP President and CEO Tom Curley.
“The steps the U.S. military is now taking continue to deny Bilal his right to due process and, in turn, may deny him a chance at a fair trial. The treatment of Bilal represents a miscarriage of the very justice and rule of law that the United States is claiming to help Iraq achieve. At this point, we believe the correct recourse is the immediate release of Bilal,” Curley added.
It’s ridiculous that the US military has spent 19 months building a case and is trying to bring him to justice via the Iraqi courts. There was ample evidence to have conducted a drumhead court martial under US authority and to have executed Bilal Hussein, as a spy within 24 hours of his arrest.