Fri, Nov 23, 2007 - Page 7 News List

AP report backs accused Iraqi photographer


A series of accusations raised by the US military against an Associated Press (AP) photographer detained for 19 months in Iraq are false or meaningless, according to an intensive AP investigation of the case.

Evidence and testimony collected by the AP show no support for allegations that Bilal Hussein took part in insurgent activities or bombmaking, and few of the images he provided dealt directly with Iraqi insurgents.

"Despite the fact that Hussein has not been interrogated since May 2006, allegations have been dropped or modified over time, and new claims added, all without any explanation," said the nearly 50-page report compiled last spring by lawyer and former US federal prosecutor Paul Gardephe and made public on Wednesday.

The report, along with copious exhibits and other findings, were provided to US and Iraqi officials in late June but have never been publicly released by the AP.

"The best evidence of how Hussein conducted himself as a journalist working for AP is the extensive photographic record," Gardephe wrote. "There is no evidence -- in nearly a thousand photographs taken over the 20-month period -- that his activities ever strayed from those of a legitimate journalist."

The US military notified the AP last weekend that it intended to submit a complaint against Hussein that would bring the case into the Iraqi justice system as early as Nov. 29. Under Iraqi codes, an investigative magistrate will decide whether there are grounds to try Hussein, who was seized in the western Iraqi city of Ramadi on April 12 last year. The AP has retained Gardephe to defend Hussein before the Iraqi court.

Military officials have alleged that Hussein, 36, had links to terrorist groups but are refusing to disclose what evidence or accusations would be presented.

Gardephe said he was hampered by the lack of specific information about what the military intends to present in court.

Despite US military claims that insurgents granted Hussein "unusual access," the overwhelming majority of his photographs showed scenes readily visible to any passer-by, such as bombed-out buildings, injured civilians and funerals, said Gardephe, who reviewed all of the nearly 1,000 photos Hussein submitted to AP.

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