We have written several times, including here, about Bilal Hussein, an Iraqi photographer who worked for the Associated Press and was arrested in the company of al Qaeda terrorists. Hussein was turned over to Iraq’s courts for prosecution; at all times, the AP has vigorously defended him as a wrongly accused journalist.
Today, the AP revealed that Iraq’s government has granted Hussein amnesty under a statute passed in February. The case is still a bit murky, though, in that there may be at least one charge to which the amnesty does not apply. AP’s President, Tom Curley, has aggressively attacked those who have questioned Hussein’s journalistic bona fides. Today he reacted to the amnesty as though it were vindication:
“The Amnesty Committee took only a few days to determine what we have been saying for two years. Bilal Hussein must be freed immediately,” said Curley, the AP’s president.
“The U.S. military has said the Iraqi process should be allowed to work. It has, and the military must finally do the right thing by ending its detention of a journalist who did nothing more than his job. Bilal’s imprisonment stands as a sad black mark on American values of justice and fairness.”
Of course, the Amnesty Committee didn’t agree with what the AP has been saying for two years; it decided that Hussein was eligible for amnesty under a statute passed in February. His guilt or innocence has not been adjudicated.
The charge as to which the amnesty may not apply–this is not yet clear–relates to the murder of Italian Salvatore Santoro by terrorists in 2004. Hussein was on the scene shortly after the murder to take pictures of the terrorists and Santoro’s body, including this one:
This photo gives every appearance of having been taken by someone who was in league with the terrorists, or, at a minimum, unafraid of them. The AP has tried to explain Hussein’s convenient availability to take a propaganda photo of the terrorists by claiming that Hussein, along with two other unidentified AP “journalists,” just happened to be driving along in the vicinity of the murder when they were stopped at a roadblock by insurgents, driven to the murder scene, allowed (or directed) to take photographs, and driven back to their vehicle.
That’s one possible explanation of what happened, but I don’t think it’s the most likely one. I seriously doubt that terrorists would hang out in the desert with the corpse of a man they’ve just murdered, while their confederates man a roadblock, stopping cars at random in hopes that one of them might be full of “journalists” from the Associated Press so they can get some pictures taken.
The problem for the AP (and for Hussein) is that he has taken a number of photographs which appear to document a cozy relationship with Iraqi terrorists. Here is just one example:
The person who took this picture was obviously on good terms with the terrorists. He had no fear, evidently, that they would turn their weapons on him. Rather, it appears that the terrorists were posing for what is in essence a propaganda photo. Was this picture, too, the result of a random encounter at a roadblock?
It remains to be seen how Iraqi and U.S. military justice will deal with Hussein, but any suggestion that he and the Associated Press have been vindicated is plainly wrong.