Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Iraq reporter faces terror charge

Iraq reporter faces terror charge

The US military says it will recommend criminal charges against an Associated Press photographer detained in 2006 on suspicion of helping Iraqi insurgents.
The Pentagon says additional evidence has come to light proving Bilal Hussein is a "terrorist media operative" who infiltrated the news agency.

The case will be passed to Iraqi judges who will decide if he should be tried.

AP says its own investigation has found no evidence that he was anything but an Iraqi journalist working in a war zone.

The agency's lawyers say they have been denied access to Mr Hussein and the evidence against him, making it impossible to build a defence.

There's a new leadership in the defence department, but the same callous disregard from justice

Tom Curley
AP President

AP's president and chief executive officer Tom Curley told the BBC he believed the US military simply wished to keep Mr Hussein in jail as long as possible.

He said the US did not want news coming out of Anbar province, which he called an "information black hole".

"There's a new leadership in the defence department, but the same callous disregard from justice," Mr Curley told the BBC.

Mr Hussein was part of an AP photo team that won a Pulitzer prize in 2005.

US officials say he had previously aroused suspicion because he was often at the scene of insurgent attacks as they occurred.

'Not convincing'

AP says Mr Hussein, who is now 36, was taken into custody in April 2006 after sheltering strangers in his home following an explosion near his home in Falluja.

US marines later arrived and used his flat as an observation post, where they detained him and his guests as suspected insurgents and confiscated his laptop computer and telephone.

Whenever we ask to see what's so convincing we get back something that isn't convincing at all

Dave Tomlin
AP lawyer

US-led forces in Iraq possess "convincing and irrefutable evidence that Bilal Hussein is a threat to security and stability as a link to insurgent activity", Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said on Monday.

The US military had previously said Mr Hussein was detained for possessing materials for making roadside bombs, insurgent propaganda and a surveillance photo of a US military installation.

He did not disclose what the new evidence is. Mr Hussein could face the death penalty if convicted of aiding insurgents.

AP says in the past 19 months various allegations have been floated unofficially against Mr Hussein by the US military, but then withdrawn with little explanation.

"Whenever we ask to see what's so convincing we get back something that isn't convincing at all," said AP's lawyer Dave Tomlin.

In particular, it says there is no evidence that any of Mr Hussein's images were co-ordinated with insurgents or showed the moment of an attack.

Mr Curley says Mr Hussein was not interrogated after his first month of detention until a few weeks ago - so he says it is hard to work out what new information may have emerged on the basis of which charges could be laid.

He says the American military is working under time constraints as the law obliges it to release Mr Hussein by December 12 unless legal proceedings begin.

Calls for his release have been backed by press freedom groups such as the Committee to Protect Journalists.


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