The court hearing at the Central Criminal Court of Iraq will decide whether there is enough evidence against Hussein to proceed to trial. A Photo District News article earlier this week described the court system as overloaded and rushed, controlled by Shiites, and biased against Suunis such as Hussein.

The Pentagon says that it believes Hussein is a “terrorist media operative”, but it has constantly refused to provide any evidence for the accusation, or to even detail the charges that will be brought against him. He and his lawyer will only learn of the charges at the same hearing that they will be expected to present a defence.

Other stories on Bilal Hussein’s detention EPUK: Bilal Hussein: terrorist or journalist ?
EPUK: AP asks Maliki: Ensure that justice is done
AP webpage on Bilal Hussein
Photo District News: The Man From Fallujah
Free Bilal Hussein website

However, the US military have indicated that even if he is found innocent, they will still have the right to keep him in prison. If this were to happen, it would confirm suspicions that the US military are willing to arrest and imprison journalists in Iraq who produce photographs deemed to be “unhelpful” to the American war effort. Around one in every 25 of those acquitted in the Iraqi courts continue to be detained by the US forces.

“If we deem [Hussein] a threat to the security and stability of Iraq and we decide to detain him further we will do that,” Major Brad Leighton, spokesperson for the Multi-National Force in Iraq, told Photo District News. According to figures obtained by the New York Times, around one in every 25 of those acquitted in the Iraqi courts continue to be detained indefinitely by the US forces.

US have “irrefutable proof”

While many journalists in Iraq have been detained by US forces on similar charges to Hussein, most have been released without charge after a couple of months, even when some had known links to insurgents.

Officials at Camp Cropper, where Hussein is currently being held have reportedly admitted that their evidence against him on most of the charges is “weak”, but say they have “irrefutable proof” of his involvement in supplying a false ID card and of conspiring with insurgents to photograph explosions. According to AP, none of Bilal’s 900 submitted photographs over his 20-month employment with AP including explosions.

According to an AP investigation into his arrest, a US interrogator told Hussein: “Your photos present a threat to us”. Referring to photographs taken shortly before his arrest, he allegedly stated: “Do you know what would happen if these photographs were shown in the US ? There would be huge demonstrations and we would have to leave Iraq. This is why you won’t be released.”

But according to Hussein, the US military would have been prepared to release him in May 2006 as well as increasing his salary and giving him more expensive camera equipment if the photographer agreed to spy for them. Hussein says he refused the offer because it would have compromised his journalistic integrity.

Extract from the AP investigation, alleging that the US military would be been prepared to release Hussein if he had agreed to spy for them

Held for “security reasons”

The respected photographer is just one of an estimated 24,000 individuals currently being held by the US military without charge for “security reasons”. Despite his detention, Hussein has not been interviewed by US or Iraqi authorities since May 2006.

Hussein, 36, who was part of AP’s Pulitzer Prize winning team in 2005 was arrested in April 2006 at his apartment in Ramadi. Initial reports stated that when arrested he was living in a barricaded derelict building with two insurgency leaders. The reports said that Hussein was found with bomb making equipment and a weapons cache.

However, it has since emerged that he was living alone in his fully furnished flat, that there were no explosives or weapons there, and the building was not barricaded. Hussein had let the US soldiers into the building so that they could monitor the street below after a nearby explosion.

According to Hussein, he had invited the two other men to shelter in his apartment following the explosion, and he had never met them before. His account has been substantiated by both AP and US military investigations.

“No evidence of wrongdoing” – Curley

In May 2006, AP hired lawyer and former federal prosecutor Paul Gardephe to conduct an investigation into the events that led up to Hussein’s arrest, and says that the report proves Hussein’s innocence. The report was passed to the US military, but was not made public until several weeks ago.

The report concludes: “There is no hard evidence concerning most of the allegations made against Hussein; as to the two remaining allegations, the USM [US Military] had refused to provide the nature or substance of its evidence.”

“The military has shown AP nothing that gives reasonable grounds for believing Bilal has engaged in any illegal or hostile acts against US or Iraqi authorities or citizens” says AP president and CEO Tom Curley. “Our own review shows no evidence of wrongdoing.”

A breakdown of the allegations made so far against Hussein, and the report’s findings can be found in this article.

Vicious attacks on blogs

Even before his April 2006 arrest, Hussein had already been regularly subjected to bitter and vicious attacks on right-wing blogs such as Michelle Malkin, Little Green Footballs and The Jawa Report after his Pulitzer Prize winning 2004 photograph of insurgents in action in 2004 was published, and which accused him of being complicit in two insurgent kidnappings.

In September 2006, the Riehl World View asked “Bilal Hussein: Is There Blood On His Hands?”, which began: “apparently Bilal Hussein didn’t only photograph Salvatore Santore, he also videotaped his execution…As far as I’m concerned, this means Hussein was present throughout and witnessed the execution. I wonder if he took some special images just for his insurgent friends?”

Michelle Malkin captioned one of Hussein’s photographs from the time as: “[Hussein] alone in the desert with the killers of Italian hostage Salvatore Santoro–and feeling safe and fine”

But an AP statement released shortly afterwards reiterates that Hussein was traveling with two other AP journalists (including a cameraman) when they were stopped at a checkpoint by insurgents. When they identified themselves as journalists, they were ordered out of their vehicle at gunpoint and told to photograph and video gunmen with the body of Santore, who had been killed some hours prior to their arrival.

The anonymous blogger at fellow right-wing blog The Jawa Report accused AP of “hiring a photographer to follow our enemies and to distribute their propaganda, the AP has betrayed our country. Let me suggest that there are higher standards of morality than so-called journalistic ethics. When your fellow countrymen are dying in a war, the highest obligation is to nation. By distributing images and messages of the enemy you bolster their support.”

The blog post written under the pseudonym “Rusty Shackleford”, which refers to Hussein as “vile piece of lying garbage” and “asswipe”, and accused him of “celebrat[ing] in the street as you mutilated the bodies of people who were there to reconstruct your country” going on to compare the AP photographer to Goebbels, ending: “the only thing I regret is that one of those [US] snipers didn’t take you out.”