Nov. 26, 2007 · The U.S. military continues to refuse to release any evidence against an AP photojournalist, even as they plan to bring criminal charges against him.
The military first took Bilal Hussein, a member of the AP’s 2005 Pulitzer Prize-winning photo team, into custody in April of 2006 when Hussein provided shelter for several strangers after hearing an explosion on a nearby street in Ramadi.
Since then, the military has ignored pleas from AP attorneys to either release Hussein or bring him to trial. Hussein has now spent more than 19 months in prison without being charged with a specific crime.
A public affairs officer told the AP 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. He explained that the decision to finally bring charges now was based on new evidence that further supports the government’s belief that Hussein is a terrorist operative who infiltrated the AP while working hand-in-hand with those he was photographing.
But without access to the evidence and without knowing the potential charges Hussein may face, attorneys for the award-winning journalist cannot effectively prepare for trial.
According to AP associate general counsel David Tomlin, the AP legal team may have only a few short hours to prepare for the case. Military representatives told Tomlin that the AP’s Baghdad bureau would receive a call at 6:30 a.m. on the day that Hussein would face a hearing before a magistrate judge to determine whether there is enough evidence to face a criminal trial.
Tomlin points out the gross discrepancy between the amount of time Hussein’s legal team and U.S. military representatives would have in preparing for the crucial hearing.
“The military has had 19 months to study the evidence against Mr. Hussein, and our attorney has no idea what he’s going to face,” Tomlin said. “He’s literally going to be standing there and concocting a defense on the spot.”
Up to this point, Hussein has had three hearings to determine the course of his case; the first two were to decide whether to continue holding him and the third – mandatory after 18 months of detention – to determine whether or not to bring criminal charges. Neither Hussein nor anyone representing Hussein has been present at any of the hearings.
“If you think of due process as one of the fruits of the system of government that we’re so proud of, this is a poor example to be showing the Iraqi people,” Tomlin said, adding that he believes at least part of the reason for his extended detention is the military’s displeasure with the photographs Hussein took showing insurgent activity at a time the military tried to downplay unrest.
Even if the hearing before the magistrate goes in Hussein’s favor and the judge determines that there is not enough evidence for him to face trial, the military can take him back into custody and detain him indefinitely as a security threat.
According to a report by the Committee to Protect Journalists, Hussein is just one of eight Iraqi journalists who have been held by U.S. forces for weeks or months without charge or conviction.