Photographer Held by U.S. Military Faces Charges Bilal Hussein, an Iraqi national, worked as a photographer for the Associated Press in Iraq until he was taken into custody by the U.S. 19 months ago. The U.S. military says the photographer is a terrorist. The AP expects to hear Thursday what specific charges Hussein is being held on.
NPR logo

Photographer Held by U.S. Military Faces Charges

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/16630765/16630746" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Photographer Held by U.S. Military Faces Charges

Photographer Held by U.S. Military Faces Charges

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/16630765/16630746" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Sometime soon, sometime on or after November 29th, Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein will likely have his day in an Iraqi court. That may sound vague but so is much else in the case of Bilal Hussein.

He is an Iraqi national, a native of the city of Fallujah, who took pictures of the fighting between U.S. forces and insurgents and of the consequences of that fighting. In April 2006, he was arrested in the Iraqi city of Ramadi. The U.S. military never made public a detailed case against him, but claimed that Bilal Hussein was a terrorist who had infiltrated the AP that he was in possession of bombs and well acquainted with bomb makers. The U.S. has detained him ever since. The Associated Press, which won a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of Iraq - coverage that included Bilal Hussein's photography - has conducted a report on the case and concluded that the charges are either false or meaningless.

Tom Curley is president and CEO of the Associated Press and joins us from our bureau in New York City.

Mr. Curley, first of all, do you know what Bilal Hussein is to be charged with or when he will learn those charges?

Mr. TOM CURLEY (President and Chief Executive Officer, Associated Press): We do not know what he'll be charged with and that's the problem. We are told that he might learn of those charges as early as later this week.

SIEGEL: A public affairs officer for U.S. forces in Iraq told us last week Bilal Hussein was initially detained in 2006 for possessing within his home improvised explosive device materials, insurgent propaganda and a surveillance photo of a coalition force installation. What did your report find and how did it answer those charges?

Mr. CURLEY: Well, we researched that and a couple other charges. The charges have been moving in this case. We found them all to be absolute nonsense. There is no justification to keep holding him.

SIEGEL: He was accused, more or less, of being unnaturally well wired and plugged into insurgent forces in Ramadi where he was arrested. Is it possible that he was sympathetic to them or in some way working for them?

Mr. CURLEY: It's very difficult for us to believe that he was in any way associated. Now, he operated in a very tough area in the midst of the insurgency. He is a native of Fallujah, his family had contacts throughout the area, then he was transferred to Ramadi and he was operating there almost by himself. But it was a very tough time and the insurgency was at its peak. He provided a lot of images and some of them of the insurgents fighting the U.S. troops.

SIEGEL: What about that charge that one of them amounted to a surveillance photo of a coalition force installation?

Mr. CURLEY: We can imagine how you can make that charge. There's just is no credibility with that one.

SIEGEL: There is at least one photograph he took where we see insurgents at their weapons. It would appear to be that they're engaged in combat. Is he behind their lines? Is he with them at that moment?

Mr. CURLEY: Or in the midst. The truth is that he took more than 400 pictures for us. About seven percent of those pictures show some level of insurgent activity. But those pictures are no different from the pictures that others took in Anbar province.

SIEGEL: If, in fact, there's nothing to the case that he was someway in league with the insurgents and that he was in possession of some materials that might be used to make explosives, why do you think U.S. forces - or for that matter now, the Iraqi courts - are so interested in him?

Mr. CURLEY: Well, you come back to somebody in Washington not wanting those pictures out. This was at a time when the government was complaining that there was progress being made and here were pictures everyday of an insurgency that obviously had roots and legs and was widespread.

SIEGEL: Do you think he's facing recriminations for doing what his job was -for taking pictures.

Mr. CURLEY: We can't find any other reason.

SIEGEL: How well do you know Bilal Hussein? You've picked him up in Iraq a couple of years ago. He was often in these cities. Did people at the AP bureau in Baghdad know him well?

Mr. CURLEY: Well, he worked with AP for a number of months as a fixer and translator and basically worked his way up. I can tell you that the photographers from AP who worked with him think extremely highly of him. He was a graduate of a technical institute. He picked up the camera and became adept at it. He started with freelance pictures and then became a staff photographer. I think it's also important to note that his work was reviewed carefully at every stage.

SIEGEL: There was a charge that he had given shelter to an insurgent leader -brought him into his house and helped to protect him.

Mr. CURLEY: Oh, that's crazy. There was an incident a couple of blocks away. And some people entered the house to take shelter - entered his apartment. Again, this was in Ramadi, where he had moved and where he was sitting at his table in the kitchen, having breakfast. Very simple, easy one to explain.

SIEGEL: We've had some questions answered - not in great detail - by the public affairs office here in Iraq. What have you heard from either the U.S. military or from the administration, for that matter - the Department of Defense? What have you heard when you have made these very arguments that the AP has made to people in authority?

Mr. CURLEY: Well, we keep hearing that he is "dirty," quote, and that there's grounds to hold him. I got a private briefing at the Pentagon and I came away unimpressed by what I had seen. So we still don't see the grounds for the case.

SIEGEL: But do you get the impression that there may be some Iraqi informants who claim that they know that he, indeed, was dirty.

Mr. CURLEY: No, I have never gotten that impression. And there's no indication second today that that's the case.

SIEGEL: It's entirely circumstantial.

Mr. CURLEY: I think they believe they have information. What that is remains to be seen.

SIEGEL: Mr. Curley, thank you very much for talking with us today.

Mr. CURLEY: Robert, thank you very much.

SIEGEL: That's Tom Curley, president and chief executive officer of the Associated Press.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.