AP can do more to help jailed photographer

Last week, the Associated Press reported that one of its photographers in Iraq, Bilal Hussein, has been detained since 2006 on suspicion of aiding terrorists while taking photos in the embattled country. Since his detainment, the U.S. military has announced plans to pursue a criminal case against him in the Iraqi court system.

In a column in The Washington Post, Tom Curley, CEO of the AP, lambasted the U.S. military’s refusal to disclose information about the charges and evidence against the photographer.

In response, the AP announced that its own investigation of Hussein, an Iraqi national, uncovered no evidence that he was involved in, or had prior knowledge of, insurgent or terrorist activity.

A moment’s pause for perspective is direly needed in this serious situation.

The reason Americans know about Hussein’s arrest is because of the Associated Press’ coverage. Hussein may be merely one of many Iraqis that are in a similar situation.

His status as an AP photographer is not enjoyed by the majority of people entangled in the Iraqi justice system.

While the Associated Press has heavily pushed this story, there’s no way the organization can be objective about it. Whether or not the military’s assertions are true, the AP can help Hussein not just by defending him in the legal system but also by using its resources to analyze the inner workings of the Iraqi justice system and the United States’ continued involvement.

While the AP is justified in questioning the process, it errs in assuming that Hussein, as an Iraqi citizen employed by an American company, should be treated differently than another Iraqi citizen.

To treat him otherwise would be detrimental to the Iraqi justice system which, like most of the country, is still less than stable.

Though the AP should defend its employees, it should not do so at the risk of its credibility. It should not jeopardize its own ability to report in the region. The story here is not just about the military versus the press but about the continuing adjustment of the Iraqi state. If Bilal Hussein, as an Iraqi citizen, is the victim of injustice, then surely there are others, too.

The best way the AP can address the larger problems that plague Hussein and Iraq is to shine the light Americans need to properly understand the influence we have in the world.

When readers of AP content can view Hussein’s plight in the context of the broader weaknesses of the Iraqi government, the progress it seeks in this particular case can be helpful to all of those who are caught in the middle of a years-old conflict in which nothing is black and white.