The Associated Press revealed this week that its Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer, Bilal Hussein, has been detained by the U.S. military since April. Military officials say they believe Hussein has close ties to insurgents. The AP says “then charge him with something!” AP executive editor Kathleen Carroll speaks with Mark Jurkowitz.
MARK JURKOWITZ: After five months of trying to work things out with the U.S. military, the Associated Press has finally gone public with its problem. Its Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer, Bilal Hussein, has been held by the U.S. military in Iraq since April without charge. U.S. military officials say Hussein has close relationships with the insurgents, but AP says, go ahead and charge him with something then! Kathleen Carroll is executive editor of the Associated Press. Kathleen, welcome to On the Media.
KATHLEEN CARROLL: Thank you, Mark.
MARK JURKOWITZ: Let's start with the very basics of this particular case. Who is Bilal Hussein, and can you describe the circumstances of him being hired by the Associated Press?
KATHLEEN CARROLL: Sure. Bilal is a native of Fallujah, Iraq, and a graduate of the Baghdad Institute of Technology. And when our reporters and photographers were traveling around Iraq and doing stories, we hired him as a knowledgeable local person, the term of our "fixer," to help us find our way around Fallujah. When it became too difficult for our non-Iraqi, Arab and Western staffers to work in Fallujah, particularly as a photographer, Bilal volunteered to be trained, and, as we do with many local staffers all over the world, we gave him a tryout. He passed the test, we gave him a lot of training on the equipment and on journalism ethics, vetted him with experienced editors. He worked out very well for us, and so we kept him on.
MARK JURKOWITZ: Let's talk about the specifics of this case. What happened? Where was he when he was detained? Can you give me the circumstances of that day?
KATHLEEN CARROLL: Sure. The most detail we have about that comes from the U.S. military, which says that he was in a building with two other people when he was arrested in the morning.
MARK JURKOWITZ: Two other people that the military have characterized as enemy combatants or insurgents. Is that correct?
KATHLEEN CARROLL: That's what they told us, yes. We have been in touch with them, but he says that, you know, he was doing his job as a journalist, which involves talking to all kinds of people, and making himself available to talk with them so that he can make pictures of them without endangering himself.
MARK JURKOWITZ: Are you aware to any extent what his relationship with members of the insurgency might be? Do you know, frankly, whether he has just sources within the insurgency or would have any special knowledge about what's going on there?
KATHLEEN CARROLL: I would say two things about that, Mark. One, we are not particularly interested in trying to suss- out the details and evidence and try Bilal, you know, on your program or any other way in the media. We have always said if there's a problem, put it before a court. That said, 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, 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 in his hometown and then later in a town up the road.
MARK JURKOWITZ: How do you describe sort of the kind of work and the kinds of things he's been doing for AP?
KATHLEEN CARROLL: We reviewed 420 photographs, the body of his work, as it moved on our circuits. The vast majority of those photographs show the aftermath of combat, show the effects of fighting on buildings, on cars, on people. There are people showing emotion, grief. There are occasionally dead bodies. There are wounded people. Thirty-seven of the four-hundred-and-twenty pictures showed armed men or masked men who could conceivably be insurgents or fighters. And in three or so of those photos, they're actually firing weapons. The distinction that I really want to make that's very important here, Mark, if you believe that someone is tied in with insurgents, you would logically assume that they would be at the scene of insurgent activity fairly early after it happened. You might expect to see pictures of, you know, cars blowing up, with giant flames leaping out of them. And that's just not the case in Bilal's work. Our review found that most of the violence had subsided by the time he arrived to make pictures. That's important to us.
MARK JURKOWITZ: According to a May e-mail from a military official to the AP, this is what they've said. He has close relationships with persons known to be responsible for kidnapping, smuggling, improvised explosive attacks and other attacks on coalition forces. Do you accept that as a possibility, do you refute that or do you just sort of – don't have a comment on that per se and are just looking at his work and his work habits?
KATHLEEN CARROLL: Well, I can only respond to it generally, because there's never been anything specific that comes beyond that. Bilal grew up in Fallujah. I don't know about you, but not all the people that I grew up with turned out exactly well. You know, some of them ended up doing things that our mothers might not like. I don't know whether that's the case with Bilal, because we've never had any names associated with this. Just they think his relationships are unsavory. Any journalist will tell you that occasionally you end up having dinner with or interviewing or taking pictures of somebody that you might not want to have over to the house, but that that's a part of your job as being a journalist. How could anybody in Boston, Chicago, New York or Philadelphia have covered the Mob if they didn't get to know all these colorful characters a little bit? Does that mean that they should go to jail without charge because they hang out with guys that have names from "The Sopranos?"
MARK JURKOWITZ: [LAUGHS]
KATHLEEN CARROLL: No.
MARK JURKOWITZ: Kathleen, I appreciate your time.
KATHLEEN CARROLL: My pleasure, Mark.
MARK JURKOWITZ: Kathleen Carroll is executive editor of The Associated Press. [MUSIC UP AND UNDER]