AP’s Curley: Government’s ‘Overt Effort To Stifle a Free Press’

Associated Press president and CEO Tom Curley today used some of the strongest possible language to condemn the U.S. government’s holding of an AP photographer in Iraq without charges. Bilal Hussein has been in U.S. custody for about six months in Iraq for what Pentagon officials assert is closeness to Iraqi insurgents.

“We are left to conclude that this is not an issue of a threat to American security,” Curley told mediabistro.com in an email. “It is an overt effort to stifle a free press.”

Last week Pentagon officials refused a request for information from a journalists’ organization on why Hussein is being held. Military officials have in the past cited what they called “strong ties” to insurgents. He was taken into custody April 12, according to the AP. The military said he was in the company of insurgents.

Hussein has shot photos of often violent events in Iraq, sometimes from the insurgents’ side of a scene as action was happening. After a review of his photos, the AP concluded that he did nothing wrong.

“We’ve done our own examination of his work, our relationship with him, all the conversations he’s had with all of the AP employees,” Kathleen Carroll told the National Public Radio show “On the Media,” “and found absolutely nothing, absolutely nothing that would lead us to believe his relationships were anything other than those of a native son committing journalism.”

Curley raised the Hussein case at a meeting earlier this month on Homeland Security at The Aspen Institute at which U.S. officials were also present, including senators and CIA leaders. He was unable, he says to “get traction” or any action or movement in securing Hussein’s release. “We remain concerned for his life,” Curley wrote mediabistro.com today. Curley earlier told mediabistro.com that Hussein, a Sunni, was being held with Shiites. The Sunni-Shiite conflict is at the heart of the tensions in Iraq, which some are calling civil war.

“From prison, he has told his attorneys that he fears he is a marked man among the detainees, who know he is a journalist working for a Western news service,” Curley has written in a published essay.

“AP is convinced the Army doesn’t care whether Hussein is or isn’t an insurgent. It doesn’t have to care. Hussein is off the street, and the military says it doesn’t consider itself accountable to any judicial authority that could question his guilt.”

“Hussein’s incarceration delivers a further bonus. He is no longer free to circulate in his native Fallujah or in Ramadi, taking photographs that coalition commanders would prefer not to see published.”


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