Sunday, September 17, 2006

U.S. Imprisons AP Photographer Without Charges

According to the Associated Press, there are "an estimated 14,000 people detained by the U.S. military worldwide - 13,000 of them in Iraq. They are held in limbo where few are ever charged with a specific crime or given a chance before any court or tribunal to argue for their freedom." One of these prisoners is a photographer who has worked for the AP since 2004 in Fallujah and Ramadi - Bilal Hussein. Hussein has been detained by the U.S. military without charges since April 12th.

The AP's president and CEO, Tom Curley says, "We want the rule of law to prevail. He either needs to be charged or released. Indefinite detention is not acceptable. We've come to the conclusion that this is unacceptable under Iraqi law, and the Geneva Conventions, or any military procedure."

In a letter to the AP, U.S. Army Major General Jack Gardner says, "The information available establishes that he has relationships with insurgents and is afforded access to insurgent activities outside the normal scope afforded to journalists conducting legitimate activities."

AP executive editor Kathleen Carroll says, "Journalists have always had relationships with people that others might find unsavory. We're not in this to choose sides, we're to report what's going on from all sides."

It looks like the only "crime" that Hussein has committed is to try and do his job as a journalist. Instead of sitting around a hotel and treating military press releases as though they were news, like many American reporters do, Hussein actually went out and tried to find out what was really happening. He must have been pretty good at it, because one of his photos was included in a group of AP photos that won the Pulitzer Prize.

The military doesn't want the truth about what is going on in Iraq to be told. This is nothing more than an effort by U.S. officials to suppress the truth, and to control efforts by the press to learn the truth. The military should either charge and try Hussein, or release him and let him get back to work. Didn't we decide a couple of hundred years ago, in the Zenger case, that journalists should not be jailed for telling the truth?

The other 14,000 should also either be charged and tried in a court of law or legal tribunal, or immediately released. Until Bush came along, Americans believed it was wrong to incarcerate a person without charges and a trial. We believed this so strongly that we even wrote it into our Constitution. There is no exception to this for people we don't like.

I know that some on the right will bleat that these prisoners are not American citizens. So what? The world is watching our actions in Iraq and other places. Do we really want to tell the world that only Americans deserve to be treated fairly? With this kind of message, is it any wonder that many in the world no longer trust us?

The world once viewed America as a beacon of freedom and justice and the rule of law. Now we are just viewed as a bully eager to trash international legal standards.

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