We have followed the story of Police Captain Jamil Hussein, the frequently-cited Associated Press source who became controversial when he was the principal source for the sensational claim that six Sunnis were burned alive in Baghdad, while government troops stood by and did nothing. That story, along with the since-withdrawn AP claim that four mosques were burned down the same day, has been widely called into question.
We commented on Jamil Hussein here, here, here, and here. The Iraqi government intitially reported that to the best of their knowledge, there was no “Police Captain Jamil Hussein” working for the Baghdad police department. That sparked widespread speculation about the existence, let alone the reliability, of this important AP source. Most recently, the Iraqi government has said that there is such a person after all, a “Jamil Gholaiem Hussein” who is assigned to the Khadra police station. He reportedly goes by “Jamil Gholaiem,” which perhaps accounts for the fact that he was not immediately identified.
We haven’t yet commented on this latest twist in the story, mostly because we’ve been waiting for another shoe to drop. Many questions remain unanswered. As I wrote on December 20:
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.
We assume, but don’t know for sure, that the “Jamil Gholaiem Hussein” who has now been identified is the AP’s source, even though he appears to be the same person who previously denied providing information to the AP. But that is only the first step in answering the questions that have emerged about the AP’s reliance on him as a source. Why has Hussein been a source for events not just in his precinct, but all over Baghdad? Has he really been an eyewitness to 61 or more news stories, or has he based his reports on hearsay? Or is he a front for other sources who don’t want to be identified by name? If AP still believes that Hussein is a reliable source after the “burning Sunni” story, why has it apparently not cited him as a source for any story since then? What happened with the burned-down mosques and the immolated Sunnis? The AP originally said that four mosques burned, then changed its reporting to a single mosque (apparently without issuing a correction). Was Hussein the source for the four-mosque claim? What does Hussein’s account of these events tell us about his credibility on other stories?
These are only some of the still-unanswered questions. Some answers may never be known, but with Eason Jordan, Michelle Malkin and others digging into the story, there most likely will be further revelations before long. In any event, as I noted on December 20, the question whether Jamil Hussein exists is quite separate from the question whether he is a reliable source.
Michelle Malkin has a roundup with more commentary here.
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