IC: "At any given time, a matter of circumstance can change your fate."
FIONNUALA SWEENEY: Welcome back. For 19 months, he's been held without charge in Iraq. The U.S. military says there's now evidence to suggest this man, Bilal Hussein, is a terrorist.
It's planning a criminal case against the Associated Press photographer. This shot taken in November 2004 shows insurgents launching an attack on U.S. forces. The photo, by Bilal Hussein, was part of a series of Iraq War images that won the AP a Pulitzer Prize the following year.
Hussein has taken hundreds of pictures for the AP, documenting war. The U.S. military says some are taken at the side of insurgents, raising suspicions the photographer had advance knowledge of attacks.
The case could be brought to the Iraqi justice system as early as November 29th.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEOFF MORRELL, PENTAGON SPOKESMAN: They characterize him as a terrorist media operative, who infiltrated the AP. They found IED devices or materials in his home, as well as some other discomforting evidence. And as a result of that, they've held him. And now they're recommending that he be tried.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SWEENEY: The AP says its own investigation shows the accusations against Hussein are false. It says there's no evidence to suggest the photographer took part in insurgent activities or bomb making.
U.S. officials say Bilal Hussein could still be held even if an Iraqi court acquits him based on classified evidence. Well, let's get more on this now. And for that, I'm joined from New York by Santiago Lyon, the director of photography with the Associated Press and from Baghdad by CNN's Michael Ware.
Santiago Lyon in New York, are you 100 percent convinced of Bilal Hussein's innocence?
SANTIAGO LYON, DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY, AP: Absolutely. Everything that we have seen surrounding his work as a photojournalist in Iraq leads us to believe that that's what he is and nothing more.
His photographs over the 20 months that he worked for us in their vast majority show the effects of the war on the civilian population. And we have no reason to believe that he's anything other than a committed photojournalist telling the story of his country.
SWEENEY: But according to the U.S. military as you are well aware, and I'm quoting here from the sound bite earlier, he's characterized as a terrorist media operative who infiltrated the AP. What about the IED devices or materials allegedly found at his home, Santiago?
LYON: Well, it's interesting. When Bilal was picked up in April of last year, he was in an apartment that he was renting in Ramadi, where he was working. And after a time, the U.S. military came on the scene. And they handcuffed him and they brought him downstairs to an electrician's shop below his apartment and photographed him above his objections with a bunch of electrical equipment, wiring equipment, the type of stuff that could conceivably be used to make an improvised explosive device, but that had nothing at all to do with Bilal Hussein. It wasn't even his storeroom. He had nothing to do with it.
SWEENEY: But correct me if I'm wrong - he was also found in his apartment with two relative strangers, who he says he was helping escape from the insurgency or from a bomb attack minutes before, one of whom apparently is an insurgency leader.
LYON: Right. Bilal Hussein was coming back from buying bread the morning of his detention. And an explosion went off in the street. And as is often the case, people ran out of the street and into buildings. And these two gentlemen ran into his apartment. And as is customary in Iraq, he offered them hospitality and breakfast. And according to Bilal, did not know them before.
SWEENEY: Michael Ware in Baghdad, you have been many times in the environs of insurgents as you've gone about your work in Baghdad and throughout Iraq over the years. Is this something that conceivably could have happened to you either as an Australian or perhaps even as Iraqi?
MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I would expect so. I mean, at any given time, I mean, a matter of circumstance can change your fate. I mean, for example, here in what we're using as a live shot position, there are materials with which you could make a roadside bomb. And I mean, if you go into any room virtually in the CNN bureau, you would find insurgent material or propaganda of some sort, be it stuff downloaded from the Internet for study, be it CDs with films that perhaps going to be used for stories.
So yes, this is something that you expose yourself to by trying to explore the other voice, the other side of the story of this war. It's just inherent with trying to tell that tale, Fionnuala.
SWEENEY: And at that time in Ramadi, when Bilal Hussein was arrested, is it fair to say that there was a kind of lockdown that no journalist could enter there independently? And indeed that was part of AP's problem. They had to hire locally people such as Bilal?
WARE: That's very much true. And if that was Bilal's employment situation, as I understand it was, that's very typical of the way things operate. It's difficult to get somebody from one place into another when an incident happens. They may have to cross sectarian dividing lines. They may have to go through military cordons. So people employ people in those areas.
Now if you're an Iraqi, a professional photojournalist, if you walk onto the street with a camera, be it stills or video for television, then you must have some kind of relationship or identity with the insurgents. You cannot exist there without their permission.
Now it's up to the individual how they forge that and how they frame that relationship.
SWEENEY: Santiago Lyon, isn't one of the issues for AP here is that Bilal was really trained by you as a photographer? He owned, if I'm not mistaken, an electrical or a computer shop. And when you began to first use his services, you helped him train as a photographer. It wasn't so much that he came to you as a photographer offering his services.
LYON: Well, we initially made contact with Bilal in the middle of 2004 when we were sending people into Fallujah at that time to see what the situation was.
The city of Fallujah was at that time being bombarded constantly by coalition forces. And we wanted to tell the world the story of what was going on inside.
We met Bilal through a driver who was in our employment. And he offered to act as a guide for us. And he showed our reporters and photographers around Fallujah. And then he expressed an interest in making photographs for us. Apparently he'd had a passion for photography from an early age. And so, we gave him a camera. And he started to make pictures for us and started to deliver those images by taxi to our Baghdad offices. And we saw that, you know, he was able to move around quite easily, being from Fallujah and knowing people in Fallujah. And gradually, his photography began to improve.
And you know, we made very clear to him what we expected from him as a journalist and as a photographer for the AP. And he understood that. And we trained him in the use of his equipment. And he gradually began to produce a steady stream of images for us from Fallujah, which was really quite unique at the time, given the military situation there.
So he was, in effect, a unique set of eyes onto the situation in a very challenging environment in Iraq. And we believe that that's really the reason behind all of this, that the photographs that he was taking showing the effects of the war on the civilian population and showing insurgent activity in and around Fallujah became an inconvenient truth for the U.S. government. And they decided to silence that.
So they arrested him. He's been in jail for the last 19 months. No charges, no evidence produced. And we think it's completely outrageous and goes against everything that the United States stands for in terms of democracy, rule of law, and a free press.
SWEENEY: Michael Ware, Santiago Lyon says that Bilal Hussein was a unique set of eyes in what was an inconvenient truth for the U.S. military. In this changing nature of combat as we've seen with the Iraq War since the invasion, is this a very common phenomenon for journalists, particularly local ones?
WARE: Well, yes. More and more, you're seeing the Western media rely on local photographers, cameramen, and indeed reporters or journalists to gather the material they need to tell the story, to impart the news.
Now that's because in this conflict more so simply than any other I've been involved with, or that I'm aware of, journalists are considered legitimate military targets by almost all of the sides out there on the Iraqi battlefield.
If you look at their targeting profiles, journalists are considered either part of the problem or they have a bias one way or the other for a particular sect, for the West, anti-Islam, whatever it may be.
Or your value in terms of propaganda purposes as a kidnap victim or a death is so great, that it outweighs anything that you might be able to offer as a journalist in their mind.
So yes, more and more, we're seeing Iraqis being used. We're seeing journalists specifically targeted here in this war. So that has thrown up a whole complex series of questions and ethical dilemmas about the nature of the way this war is covered.
Although at the end of the day, you still want to get out there and see it with your own eyes. And as much as you can, that's what you still do. Fionnuala?
SWEENEY: Santiago Lyon of the Associated Press in New York, Michael Ware of CNN in Baghdad, thank you both very much indeed for joining us.