The Digital Journalist
Help Free Bilal Hussein
November 2007

On the morning of April 12, 2006, Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein was having breakfast in his Ramadi apartment. Suddenly heavily armed U.S. Marines burst through his door. There had been incidents involving suspected insurgents in the neighborhood.

Bilal was quickly detained, and disappeared from public sight. That was 19 months ago. Bilal was part of the team of Iraqi journalists that won a Pulitzer Prize for the AP in 2005.

Sometime by month's end, Bilal is scheduled to have his day in court, but no one knows exactly when. His defense attorney, Paul Gardephe, a former federal prosecutor who has been hired by AP, has not been told what charges his client faces. The military refuses to disclose what evidence it has. All he knows is that Bilal will be facing the military's charges in an Iraqi court in the next few days. But not when or where the hearing will be held. All he has been told is that the military will let him know by 6:30 a.m. on the day of the hearing. No one will tell the attorney what his client will be charged with.

According to Associated Press President and CEO Tom Curley, "We believe Bilal's crime was taking photographs the U.S. government did not want its citizens to see. That he was part of a team of AP photographers who had just won a Pulitzer Prize for work in Iraq may have made Bilal even more of a marked man."

The obvious question is "how can we be sure that this guy wasn't actually a terrorist or insurgent?"

Well, the answer is, we can't.

He may actually be a terrorist, as you, our reader, may be. Or your co-worker, or your wife, husband, children, brother, sister, aunt, uncle. We don't know. However, probability is a long way from possibility. And, of course, that is the entire point.

If you saw the movie Rendition, you may have an idea of just how quickly the rights we assume we have can disappear in a climate of terror. If you have read about, or if you are old enough to have lived through the 1950s, you'll recall that Senator Joseph McCarthy accused hundreds of American citizens of being Communist sympathizers. Countless lives and careers of otherwise loyal Americans were destroyed.

In this kind of climate, all the checks and balances of jurisprudence are rendered moot. All it takes is a suggestion of an accusation, and a government that regards "national security" as a cloak to undermine our basic freedoms.

This time it is Bilal Hussein who is on trial for undisclosed charges.

When does the same finger point at Maureen Dowd or Thomas Friedman, or to the editor of your local paper, or even you?

As AP's Curley comments, "This affair makes a mockery of the democratic principles of justice and the rule of law that the United States says it is trying to help Iraq establish."

Bilal is being railroaded by a process that should be an anathema to any American. It may be in an Iraqi court, but he was detained and held for 19 months by American forces.

Time is running out, but in this age of the World Wide Web we can do something about it. The military is beyond our ability to influence, but our elected representatives are not. The Digital Journalist asks you to send an e-mail to your representatives in Congress and, most importantly, to these members of the Senate Armed Services Committee. They can make the military listen to them. Please send an e-mail to them immediately.

You can also sign a petition in support of Bilal Hussein at:

Help free Bilal Hussein.

E-mail addresses for members of the Senate Armed Services Committee

U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Services:  

Carl Levin (D-MI) [Chair]

Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA)

Robert C. Byrd (D-WV)

Joseph I. Lieberman (ID-CT)

Jack Reed (D-RI)

Daniel K. Akaka (D-HI)

Bill Nelson (D-FL)

Ben Nelson (D-NE)

Evan Bayh (D-IN)

Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY)

Mark Pryor (D-AR)

James Webb (D-VA)

Claire McCaskill (D-MO)

U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Services:  

John McCain (R-AZ) [Ranking Member]

John W. Warner (R-VA)

James M. Inhofe (R-OK)

Jeff Sessions (R-AL)

Susan Collins (R-ME)

Saxby Chambliss (R-GA)

Lindsey Graham (R-SC)

Elizabeth Dole (R-NC)

John Cornyn (R-TX)

John R. Thune (R-SD)

Mel Martinez (R-FL)

Bob Corker (R-TN)