The saga of Associated Press source Jamil Hussein continues. Hussein has been cited in no fewer than 61 AP stories, most or all relating to violent incidents in pretty much all quarters of Baghdad. The AP has consistently identified Hussein as a “police captain,” and has named two police stations with which he allegedly has been associated.
The controversy began when the AP used Hussein as its chief source for a sensational story about six Sunnis being dragged from a mosque and burned alive by a Shia militia. Doubts were expressed by the Iraqi government, as well as the U.S. Army, about whether the incident occurred, and official Iraqi sources stated further that there is no “police captain Jamil Hussein” in Baghdad.
Michelle Malkin sums up the current state of the search for the elusive Captain Hussein. Suffice it to say that it appears increasingly improbable that such a person exists. Given that he has ostensibly been in frequent contact with AP reporters–frequent enough to be cited as a source at least 61 times–it is hard to understand why the AP is apparently unable to produce him. Also, to the best of my knowledge Captain Hussein has not been used as a source by the AP since the controversy became public. Why not? Will he ever appear as a source again? If not, what inferences can we draw?
There are at least two questions here. The first is whether there is such a person as “Police Captain Jamil Hussein.” The second is whether the person who has often been quoted under that name by the Associated Press is a reliable source. He has ostensibly given information on violent events over pretty much all of Baghdad, in a geographic pattern that bears no apparent relationship to the precincts where he allegedly has worked.
I assume that Associated Press reporters don’t just make stuff up, and, when in doubt, attribute it to a fictitious character named Jamil Hussein. But there are a number of other possibilities. “Jamil Hussein” could be an alias; or it could be a composite character; or there could really be a “Jamil Hussein,” but he isn’t a policeman. Each of these alternatives presents serious issues of journalistic ethics, as well as obvious questions about the reliability of the peripatetic Mr. Hussein as a witness.
Or it may be that there really is a police captain of that name, who actually has witnessed and reported on dozens of violent episodes in all corners of Baghdad, but whom, for some reason, the AP has been unable to produce. That possibility still exists, but appears to be growing more remote.
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