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U.S. to File Complaint Against AP Photographer

The U.S. military arrested Pulitzer Prize-winning Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein on April 12, 2006, saying that he's a security threat. For the past 19 months, Hussein has been imprisoned without any formal charges. This week, the military announced plans to submit a complaint against him through the Iraqi justice system.

Paul Gardephe, a former federal prosecutor and lawyer hired by the AP to represent Hussein, said that it's still unclear why exactly his client was arrested. No formal charges have been made, he said, only a number of unsubstantiated allegations.

"There have been assertions that he is too close with the insurgents, that he is associated with the insurgents — it's all very vague," Gardephe said.

The military has said it will not disclose the contents of the complaint to anyone ahead of submitting it to the Iraqi court.

If Hussein is charged under the anti-terrorism law, the only possible penalty is death, according to Gardephe.

Hussein rose to prominence as a photographer, thanks to intimate images of insurgent activity in Fallujah. One of his photographs — an image of four insurgents engaged in battle — was included in a package of 20 AP photographs that won a Pulitzer Prize for breaking news photography.

"He was hidden in a furniture store and shot it very quickly," Gardephe said.

"Photojournalists in a war setting are in a very difficult position. They are viewed with suspicion by both sides."

Numerous local Iraqi photographers have been arrested by the U.S. military. "There was nothing unusual about his arrest. The only thing unusual is the period of this incarceration," Gardephe said.

The Iraqi government will be the "referring plaintiff" and present the evidence to the judge, according to Navy Rear Admiral Greg Smith. The judge will, in turn, decide what charges to pursue in the Iraqi court, while the U.S. military will participate as the "prosecution team."

"An Iraqi court will hear the case of an Iraqi citizen.... Information will be presented to that judge and the judge will make a determination whether sufficient evidence exists to file charges against Hussein. From that point on, the courts will take the matter into its own hands and deal with the situation," Smith explained.

Hussein's photographs, including the one that won a Pulitzer, could be submitted as evidence, Smith said. "They show that he was associating with these events."

"We need that side of the story," said photographer Ashley Gilbertson, whose photographs of Iraq — many of which have appeared in the New York Times — have tended to focus on civilians and U.S. troops.

Finding a way to get close, while still staying removed, he says, "is one of the biggest challenges of being a photographer in Iraq."

"With U.S. military, I try to not be involved and try to be as neutral as possible. I 'd hope that would be exactly the same [for Hussein]," Gilbertson said.

The U.S. military has said that it could submit the formal complaint as soon as Nov. 29.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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