EPUK Editorial Photographers United Kingdom and Ireland. The private mailing list and public resource for editorial photographers

Bilal Hussein: terrorist or journalist ?

1 December 2007 - EPUK

While no formal charges have yet been made against alleged “terrorist media operative” AP photographer Bilal Hussein in the nineteen months since his arrest, the US military have made a number of allegations, some of which appear to have since been retracted. AP commissioned lawyer and former federal prosecutor Paul Gardephe to conduct an investigation into the allegations.

Allegations by US Military:
Findings by AP investigation:
Hussein was a "terrorist media operative" who was "involved in activities that were well outside the scope of what you would expect a journalist to be doing in that country".
"In the more than 40 hours I spent with Hussein, I saw no hint of religious, sectarian, or ideological extremism" writes Gardephe. "Instead, I found a fairly sophisticated man who had thought deeply about the ethics of his trade. There is no evidence…that [Hussein’s] activities ever strayed from those of a legitimate journalist."

Hussein’s photographs of dead hostage Salvatore Santoro (above) "call into question his connection with the insurgent attackers and his role as a reporter"

The allegation has not been repeated by the military since June 2006. Hussein’s account – that he was stopped by insurgents who upon learning that he was a photographer, insisted he photograph the dead body of hostage Santoro – is corroborated by the reports of the two other AP journalists he was travelling with.
Hussein was a "insurgent propagandist"
Less than ten percent of Hussein’s photographs showed insurgents in action, with the majority showing the aftermath of extremist attacks, including photos of a Red Crescent ambulance damaged by insurgent mortars; of relatives weeping over the body of an Iraqi soldier killed by insurgents; of the bodies of 19 fishermen killed by insurgents; and of civilians hurt by suicide car bombs. "Accurately capturing the effect of a war on a civilian population is not propaganda…and Hussein took photographs that demonstrated the effect of both insurgent and US Military operations on the Iraqi people".
Iraqi insurgents granted Hussein "unusual access"
99% of Hussein’s photographs showed scenes readily visible to any passer-by, such as bombed-out buildings, injured civilians, and funerals. One Pullitzer-prize winning sequence showed insurgents firing weapons, but was taken when the insurgents were unaware of Hussein’s presence. Only on one occasion during the 20 months Hussein spent working for AP did he actually photograph insurgents attacking coalition forces.
Hussein conspired with insurgents to synchronise photography of insurgent explosions
None of Hussein’s 900 photographs submitted to AP shows any explosion.
While in Qaim in May 2005, Hussein stood next to an insurgent while the insurgent set off an explosive device, and photographed the incident.
AP found no photographs synchronized with an explosion or other attack, and no other photographic evidence that he was ever tipped off to insurgent activity. Bilal did not photograph any explosions or fighting while in Qaim.
Hussein gave false identity papers to a insurgent sniper fleeing US forces.
Gardephe said he uncovered no evidence that Hussein provided false identification to anyone and Hussein denies any such allegation. He noted that false IDs are readily available from numerous sources in Iraq, including official government offices, and that many Iraqis carry false IDs to conceal their religious affiliation. No evidence was found in Hussein’s flat that he was involved in the manufacture or supply of false ID cards.
Hussein helped with the kidnapping of two Arab journalists in Ramadi in March 2006.
Hussein brought the two men to safety, at the request of another journalist who had telephoned him with news of their release. AP interviewed both journalists, neither of whom had been contacted by the U.S. military. "They emphatically stated that Hussein was not involved in their kidnapping and that he in fact brought them to safety"
Hussein when arrested was living in an abandoned building, living out of a suitcase with two other men, and the entrances to the flat were barricaded.
Hussein lived alone in a furnished flat on the second floor of building with also housed two other flats and several shops, including an abandoned electricians workshop. None of the entrances to the flat were barricaded in any way, and prior to his arrest Hussein let the US soldiers into the flat so they could monitor the road below.
At the time of his arrest, Hussein was found with bomb making equipment – timers and wires.
Hussein, after being arrested at his Ramadi apartment, was taken to an electrician’s shop on the ground floor and photographed next to equipment and broken appliances."There is no evidence that Hussein had any access to or connection with that shop and storage room; the doors of both were locked before the U.S. military smashed them in," the report says.
At the time of his arrest, Hussein was found with a ‘weapons cache’.
This allegation appeared in right-wing commentator Michelle Malkin’s blog shortly after Hussein’s arrest, and is believed to have been based on a tip-off from the US military. However, the US military have not never since repeated the accusations, and no evidence of any weapons cache has ever been produced or mentioned.
At the time of his arrest, Hussein was with two alleged insurgent leaders, Abu Moadh and Zaid Hamud Kalath
Hussein said he had never met either man before that day, that he had offered them refuge in his apartment during a chance encounter on the street as people were fleeing from a bombing nearby, and that they had only been in his apartment for minutes prior to his arrest. The US military put Hussein and Moadbh in adjoining cells to secretly listen to any conversation that they might have. Hussein did not initially recognise Moadh’s voice, and then asked "are you the guy who was in my apartment ?". Zaid was acquitted of terrorism offences by an Iraqi court.
Explosive residue was found on Hussein after his arrest
The accusation was not made until December 2006, eight months after his arrest. It is not actually clear whether any such tests were done, and the results have never been produced. Hussein had been walking back from buying bread at the time of a nearby explosion, and was expected to photograph at recent scenes of explosions as part of his job. The report says that the US Military admits that "…it would not be surprising if explosive residue were found on clothing under such circumstances". According to a report in the New York Times, the explosive residue test used returned false positives for substances such as hand lotion and cigarette lighters.

Download the full AP investigation report here

Click here to download

(PDF format, 8Mb)

For more on this story, see Bilal Hussein to be charged and AP asks Maliki: Ensure that justice is done in Hussein hearing

Want to contact the EPUK Website editor? editor@epuk.org


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: BILAL Press Release for Journalists

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Today over 1850 professional photographers and journalists from over 90 countries sent once again a petition to the U.S. Government demanding the imediate release of Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein.

Bilal Hussein was detained by US Forces in Iraq on April 12, 2006, and has been held in prison ever since without charges.

This week, the US Military informed The Associated Press that they plan to seek a criminal complaint against Bilal before an Iraqi court on Nov. 29.

Despite the fact that the US Army had said to media outlets that they have “irrefutable evidence” that Bilal is “a terrorist media operative” who had “infiltrated the AP” they won’t say what the charges are or what evidence will be presented.

We can only wonder why after holding Bilal for 19 months without charges they will not reveal to the AP defense lawyer the accusation or the evidence they feel so strongly about.

Futher, the US Army says that if the Iraqi justice system acquits him they could still throw Bilal back in jail.

A nearly 50-page report by former federal prosecutor Paul Gardephe on behalf of the AP and recently disclosed by the news agency concludes that there is no hard evidence for any of the allegations that the US Military has so far unofficially made about Bilal.

Considering the towering injustice committed against Bilal, we demand Bilal’s immediate release.

Among the signatories are Pulitzer Prize winners Al Diaz, David Leeson, Judy Walgren, Anja Niedringhaus, Alexander Zemlianichenko, Oded Balilty, Lucian Perkins, John Moore and Charles J. Hanley. Agency VII photographers Gary Knight and John Stanmeyer, Noor agency photographer Philip Blenkinsop and Brazilian photographer Sebastiao Salgado have also signed the petition. The full list of signatures is available at www.freebilal.org

The petition, transcribed below, was first faxed on Oct. 12 to the State Department, the White House, the Office of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the Office of the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and to the Department of Justice.

More on Bilal’s incarceration, and links to news coverage of efforts to free him, can be found at www.freebilal.org

We would appreciate it if you would consider reporting on Bilal Hussein’s situation.

Free Bilal Committee

Annika Engvall
+1 646-454-5953
Cell +1 (347) 582-1165
Tomas Van Houtryve
Cell +33 (678) 53 03 16

“On April 12, 2006, Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein was detained by the US Forces in Iraq and has been held in prison ever since.

No formal charges have been presented yet against Bilal, who is behind bars for having the courage to photograph Iraqi insurgents. Bilal was part of an AP team that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2005 for its coverage of the Iraq war.

Bilal’s arrest and imprisonment are a serious affront to the press as a whole, as well as to democratic traditions.

We, over 1850 professional photographers and journalists from over 90 countries, are seriously concerned for the life of Bilal Hussein, especially in view of the amount of time he has already been locked up and the prison conditions to which he is being subjected.

For these reasons we demand his immediate release.


The Undersigned (see below)
Ps. The full list of signatures is available at www.freebilal.org

Free Bilal Committee

Newsletter mailing list

Comment 1: Gayle Hegland, 2 December 2007, 08:48 am

Geoff Morrell, Pentagon Press Secretary had this to say: “We believe Bilal Hussein was a terrorist media operative who infiltrated the AP. MNF-I [Multi-National Force Iraq] possesses convincing and irrefutable evidence that Bilal Hussein is a threat to security and stability as a link to insurgent activity.”

Comment 2: Cameron, 10 December 2007, 02:09 pm

your_ip_is_blacklisted_by sbl.spamhaus.org

EPUK is discussing:

Copyright infringements abroad and how to manage themCOVID-19 and photographyEPUK Members Lockdown ShowcasePhotographing in public places - where/when/is it allowed?

What is EPUK?

EPUK is an email group for professional editorial photographers who want to talk business. We don’t do techie stuff or in-crowd gossip. We don’t talk cameras or computers. What we talk about are the nuts and bolts of being in business - like copyright, licensing, fees and insurance.

Donate to EPUK

EPUK is run on a not-for-profit basis, funded solely by advertising, donations and hosting other lists. You can make a donation to EPUK through Paypal here:

Donate Now with PayPal

Site content is © original authors. To reproduce any content on this website, contact editor@epuk.org who will put you in touch with the copyright holder. You can read our privacy policy. Any advice given on this site is not intended to replace professional advice, and EPUK and its authors accept no liability for loss or damage arising from any errors or omissions. EPUK is not responsible for third party content, such as epuk.org adverts, other websites linked to from epuk.org, or comments added to articles by visitors.