Civil Liberties

A Curious Kind of Democracy

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AP chief Tom Curley takes to the Washington Post op-ed page to make the case for detained Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Bilal Hussein. Hussein's been held for 19 months, and has yet to be charged. He will apparently now get his first day in an Iraqi court on or around November 29. I don't know enough to have an opinion on whether Hussein is a terrorist, as the U.S. military now alleges. Problem is, it appears that his actual guilt or innocence doesn't much matter.

Now, suddenly, the military plans to seek a criminal case against Bilal in the Iraqi court system in just days. But the military won't tell us what the charges are, what evidence it will be submitting or even when the hearing will be held.

Not that former federal prosecutor Paul Gardephe, Bilal's attorney, hasn't asked. The conversation went pretty much like this:

When will the court hold its first hearing? Sorry, can't tell you, except it will be on or after Nov. 29. Since we're trying to be cooperative, we will let you know the exact date at 6:30 a.m. the day of the hearing, if you're in Baghdad by then.

What will Bilal be charged with? Sorry, can't tell you. The Iraqi judge who hears the evidence is the one who decides what charges will be filed.

What evidence will the judge be basing that decision on? Sorry, can't tell you. In the Iraqi court system, we don't have to show our specific evidence until after we file the complaint with the court.

Will Bilal be allowed to present evidence refuting your evidence that we can't see in advance? We don't know. He might be. Ask an Iraqi lawyer if you don't know how this works.

It's almost like a bad detective novel: Go to the phone booth at Third and Jones at 6:30 in the morning and wait for a call for further instructions. How is Gardephe to defend Bilal? 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.

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  1. Replace “bad detective novel” with “Franz Kafka novel”.

  2. We’re there to establish a colony, not a democracy.

  3. At least Saddam would have made up some fictitious charges.

    Some idiotic guard probably mistake’d his camera for a weapon…

  4. Democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights. That’s what we’re in Iraq for, right?

  5. We’re there to establish a colony, not a democracy.

    Because that worked ou so well for us in the Phillipines.

  6. What diference does this all make, if he is Iraqi, he is probably a terorists and should be hung, period, end of discussion. I’m all for rights and all but this is terorism we are dealing with, they didn’t have terorists when they wrote the constitution, it needs a terorism exception.

  7. Pity the same rules don’t apply to Blackwater.

  8. Any one else watch DS9?

    1 “your trial for war crimes will be tommorow”.

    2 “What are the charges?”

    1 “You don’t need to know that. All you need to know is that you will be found guilty and executed”.

  9. Not to defend a 19-month detention, but supposedly the Army has some evidence on this guy (it goes without saying that they better present it and stop dicking around), and he was connected to the insurgency. He would be at bombings and the like instantly after they happened, and took pictures that would require close connections to get.

    But it is disturbing that (if they have real evidence) they didn’t just charge him after arresting him.

  10. I recognize that an op-ed does not provide sufficient space to really analyze a problem, but some more information would be helpful. What kind of hearing is scheduled on around Nov. 29? If it’s an advice of rights/probable cause/arraignment, it’s not surprising that we don’t know what Bilal will be charged with, or what evidence will be presented. When he was arrested, there should have been a preliminary charge, but that wouldn’t be binding on a prosecutor in even the fairest U.S. jurisdiction. I am not a criminal lawyer, but I don’t know that there is any general right in the U.S. that allows criminal defendants access to the evidence prior to their arraignment.
    IMHO, the real issue is the 19 months without being charged. That’s ridiculous, even for a “war zone” or whatever it is. Also troublesome is the interrogation outside the presence of a lawyer. However, it’s not certain that anything that was gained in that interrogation would be admissible. It does not necessarily follow that the future proceedings are inherently flawed. A more useful exercise would be listing the conditions necessary for a fair trial, such as:
    – Adequate time to prepare a defense
    – Adequate access to prosecution evidence, particularly Brady-type stuff
    – Exclusion of illegally obtained evidence

  11. Putting aside the ridiculous 19 month detention; I thought this phase of the trial was similar to our grand jury phase. Even here Discovery doesn’t come until after the grand jury decides whether a case can go forward right?

  12. They could just let him go, and then go shoot him somewhere and claim it as an accident and “casualty of war.” It would be a lot cheaper/faster than trying him.

  13. The problem seems to be with Iraqi law. If it allows for such behavior, it’s not unlawful. The disconnect between Iraqi law and what we might call democracy based law is amusing. Of course, the joke is on the U.S. tax payers.

    J sub D,
    When do we ever learn?

  14. With shit like this, can somebody remind me why we got rid of Saddam again?

  15. The Armed Forces has done nothing but bend over backward to accomodate Islamic “civilization” by banning Service Members from having sex, possessing pornography and consuming alcohol. It’s no surprise, then, that we can’t get democracy from such a reactionary organization like the military.

    If our whole purpose was to transplant American values, perhaps we should start with “freedom” and work our way from there.

  16. No wonder the Iraqis are so agitated. We need to introduce them to sex, booze, and pot, and then they’ll chill out.

  17. “””If our whole purpose was to transplant American values, perhaps we should start with “freedom” and work our way from there.”””

    Freedom is a tricky term. It seems that Iraq had freedom to create their own legal system and this is the result.

    I don’t believe there is a government today that views freedom from the citizens perspective. Freedom for the people has been placed behind the velvet rope. Look, but don’t touch.

  18. Problem is, it appears that his actual guilt or innocence doesn’t much matter.

    Before taking Bilal’s former boss’ word for it, one should note that Bilal is getting similar treatment to what a US defendant would get.

    Guilt or innocence is not determined in the early stages of a criminal proceeding (typically an arraignment or grand jury depending on your jurisdiction). What is determined is whether there is enough evidence to even have a trial, and if so, on what charges. Thus, the results of Bilal’s hearing could be that the judge determines insufficient evidence exists to go foward, and Bilal is free to be the care-free shutterbug taking pictures of children with their pet rocket-launchers that he did before.

    That result is unlikely, just as it would be here. Muslims may not eat ham, but I’m sure they’re just as good at indicting ham sandwiches as American prosecutors are. Again, this does not mean that Bilal has been wronged, he’ll merely be afforded a trial as any criminal defendant in America is. What protections Iraq has in place, and how they compare with protections here, is outside my ken.

    But we don’t expect American-style protections everywhere. France famously reverses the presumption of innocence. Many otherwise “democratic” countries allow hearsay, don’t afford the accused the right of confronting witnesses against them, etc. Bilal’s boss really hasn’t told us what protections Bilal can expect and how they’ll stack up to ours or other democracies, instead he’s mislead us into thinking Bilal is singled out for a special railroading.

  19. They could just let him go, and then go shoot him somewhere and claim it as an accident and “casualty of war.” It would be a lot cheaper/faster than trying him.

    There’s no graft in “cheaper”.

  20. “Before taking Bilal’s former boss’ word for it, one should note that Bilal is getting similar treatment to what a US defendant would get.”

    Yes, if you ignore the 19 months of detention without charge and the refusal to inform his counsel of a hearing date.

  21. Showing pictures of wounded Iraqis is a dicey business of course. As we have noted on previous occasions, Radley don’t roll that way. Smart guy!

  22. Yes, if you ignore the 19 months of detention without charge and the refusal to inform his counsel of a hearing date.

    An American found on the battlefield (as Bilal was) can de detained for that long. There’s some indication that Bilal intentionally hid his idenity while in custody because Iraqis with no previous records of insurgent activity are frequently released quickly if the only evidence against them was associating with other insurgents. His true identity was discovered after a month, and he was detained during the investigation.

    As far as not informing the defendant’s counsel of the hearng date, defense counsel are not allowed in the room during a grand jury, so their knowledge of the hearing date is more of a formality than a requirement.

  23. Not to defend a 19-month detention, but supposedly the Army has some evidence on this guy (it goes without saying that they better present it and stop dicking around), and he was connected to the insurgency.

    The 19 months are the whole point. If he had any exculpatory witnesses, the possibility that they’re dead or gone is quite high, especially in Iraq, no?

  24. This whole thing isn’t about freedom or civil rights for Iraqis; it’s a p–ing contest between the press and military intelligence over sources and methods. I suspect AP is primarily concerned about the impact this case has on their reputation and their ability to collect information as opposed to any sympathies they have for the plight of Iraqis on US intelligence blacklists.

  25. Unbelievable. You are so stupid that you take at face value the AP chief’s description of the event. Give me a break. The guy was caught in the home of an al queda chief surrounded by weapons and other tools of terrrorism. None of this had anything to do with taking photographs. And speaking of photographs, an extremely cursory viewing will show that this douchebag was a propagandist for the most brutal terrorist organization in the world. He deservers absolutely no sympathy at all. I hope the fucker rots.

  26. h,

    If what you say is true, why has it been 19 months without any charges or evidence being put forward? Where does your super-secret insider information come from?

  27. “The Armed Forces has done nothing but bend over backward to accomodate Islamic “civilization” by banning Service Members from having sex, possessing pornography and consuming alcohol. “

    Whats with this? Why the civilization in quotes?

  28. FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: BILAL Press Release for Journalists

    Tuesday, November 27, 2007

    Today over 1850 professional photographers and journalists from over 90 countries sent once again a petition to the U.S. Government demanding the immediate release of Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein.

    Bilal Hussein was detained by US Forces in Iraq on April 12, 2006, and has been held in prison ever since without charges.

    This week, the US Military informed The Associated Press that they plan to seek a criminal complaint against Bilal before an Iraqi court on Nov. 29.

    Despite the fact that the US Army had said to media outlets that they have “irrefutable evidence” that Bilal is “a terrorist media operative” who had “infiltrated the AP” they won’t say what the charges are or what evidence will be presented.

    We can only wonder why after holding Bilal for 19 months without charges they will not reveal to the AP defense lawyer the accusation or the evidence they feel so strongly about.

    Further, the US Army says that if the Iraqi justice system acquits him they could still throw Bilal back in jail.

    A nearly 50-page report by former federal prosecutor Paul Gardephe on behalf of the AP and recently disclosed by the news agency concludes that there is no hard evidence for any of the allegations that the US Military has so far unofficially made about Bilal.

    Considering the towering injustice committed against Bilal, we demand Bilal’s immediate release.

    Among the signatories are Pulitzer Prize winners Al Diaz, David Leeson, Judy Walgren, Anja Niedringhaus, Alexander Zemlianichenko, Oded Balilty, Lucian Perkins, John Moore and Charles J. Hanley. Agency VII photographers Gary Knight and John Stanmeyer, Noor agency photographer Philip Blenkinsop and Brazilian photographer Sebastiao Salgado have also signed the petition. The full list of signatures is available at http://www.freebilal.org

    The petition, transcribed below, was first faxed on Oct. 12 to the State Department, the White House, the Office of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the Office of the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and to the Department of Justice.

    More on Bilal’s incarceration, and links to news coverage of efforts to free him, can be found at http://www.freebilal.org

    We would appreciate it if you would consider reporting on Bilal Hussein’s situation.

    Free Bilal Committee

    Contact:

    Annika Engvall

    annika.engvall @worldpicturenews.com

    +1 646-454-5953 / Cell +1 (347) 582-1165

    Tomas Van Houtryve

    tomas.van.houtryve @gmail.com

    Cell +33 (678) 53 03 16

    Petition:

    “On April 12, 2006, Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein was detained by the US Forces in Iraq and has been held in prison ever since.

    No formal charges have been presented yet against Bilal, who is behind bars for having the courage to photograph Iraqi insurgents. Bilal was part of an AP team that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2005 for its coverage of the Iraq war.

    Bilal’s arrest and imprisonment are a serious affront to the press as a whole, as well as to democratic traditions.

    We, over 1850 professional photographers and journalists from over 90 countries, are seriously concerned for the life of Bilal Hussein, especially in view of the amount of time he has already been locked up and the prison conditions to which he is being subjected.

    For these reasons we demand his immediate release.

    Sincerely,

    The Undersigned (see below)

    Ps. The full list of signatures is available at http://www.freebilal.org/

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