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After 606 days, AP's Hussein finally appears in court

9 December 2007 - EPUK

AP photographer Bilal Hussein today finally learned of the allegations which have seen him held for 20 months in a US military prison.

The court hearing at the Central Criminal Court of Iraq heard the US military make certain allegations against the 36 year old Pulitzer Prize winning photographer but formal charges have still yet to be made against him.

The nature and detail of the allegations made during the seven-hour private hearing cannot be reported for legal reasons.

While US military prosecutor provided the Iraqi investigating magistrate Dhia al-Kinani with what the US military previously described as “compelling evidence”, copies of the documents were not given to Hussein’s defence lawyer Paul Gardephe.

Al-Kinani will now privately review the evidence against Hussein, and decide whether or not Hussein’s case should proceed to trial. If so, he will recommend charges, and the case be heard before a panel of three Iraqi judges, including Al-Kinani himself.

‘Difficulty of fair hearing’

It also emerged today that the US military have insisted that any meetings between Hussein and his defence lawyer must also be attended by US military personnel and an interpreter. “You cannot prepare a defendant for a criminal trial with the prosecutor in the room” says former federal prosecutor Gardephe.

Last week AP President and CEO Tom Curley “wrote to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki”: alleging that “US. military authorities are doing their best to make it difficult for [Hussein’s] case to receive a fair hearing” by withholding charges and evidence from the defence.

While Hussein is just one of an estimated 24,000 people currently held by the US military in Iraq, any acquittal would now give unwelcome and high-profile publicity to the methods, motives and accountability of the US military in Iraq.

According to the AP investigation, Hussein was told by US interrogators: “Your photos present a threat to us…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.”

A US military spokesperson has already stated that the US may refuse to release Hussein from Baghdad’s Camp Cropper even if he is found innocent of the charges brought against him.

AP: “No evidence found to substantiate allegations’

AP have already conducted a detailed internal investigation into all aspects of Hussein’s life and work, and maintain that it has found no evidence to substantiate any of the allegations which have so far been made against him.

The US military has already withdrawn certain statements made following Hussein’s arrest, such as the statement that he was arrested in a fortified derelict safe-house with a cache of explosives. The AP investigation revealed that prior to his arrest Hussein had invited the US military into his fully furnished private flat so they could observe the street below.

AP maintains that the real reason Hussein was detained was because his photographs were an embarrassment to the US war effort and military leadership as they showed insurgent attacks in areas which coalition forces claimed to have under control, and showed civilian casualties of US military operations.

Even before his arrest, right wing bloggers had alleged that the reporting from Iraq by both AP and Hussein was biased as it gave undue or prominence to insurgent activity.

AP war reporting ‘tantamount to treason’

An eye-witness report by Hussein alleging that he saw US snipers deliberately shooting civilians in Fallujah was seized upon as evidence of anti US-feeling, a charge which is strongly denied by Hussein’s colleagues at AP.

Right-wing blogs such as Michelle Malkin and The Jawa Report. They claim that Hussein could have only photographed insurgents if he had been in cohorts with them, and that in a time of war, AP’s reporting from both sides of the conflict is tantamount to treason.

AP says that only 4% of Hussein’s submitted photographs ever showed insurgents in action, and the vast majority showed the aftermath of attacks made by both insurgents and the US-led coalition on Iraq civilians.

But the attempted portrayal of Hussein as an ‘insurgent propagandist’ was severely weakened by the revelation last week that US investigators were prepared to release him just a month after his arrest if he had agreed to spy for them. Hussein says he refused the offer because it would compromise his journalistic integrity.

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