April 10, 2006

Bilal Hussein and the Continuing Saga of Insurgent Propaganda via the Media

Remember our good friend Bilal Hussein? He's an Iraq stringer who works for the AP and who's up-close and personal photos of terrorists in Iraq helped to gain that organization last year's Pulitzer. Well, he's back in the news. This time as part of an expose of how photos are staged, faked, & doctored by pro-terrorist stringers employed by the AP, AFP, Reuters, and Getty Images.

On one forum that I frequently visit, some of these doctored photos discussed in the article have been used to justify killing American soldiers in Iraq. In all cases they are used by Islamic extremists to justify their hatred of America and recruit new jihadis. Thus, the images used by the AP & other organizations--which are often staged and sometimes fake-- lead directly to the deaths of American troops and will eventually help justify the next act of terrorism against American civilians.

Via James Joyner here are some of the highlights of the National Journal article:

Thanks to digital technology, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are the most photographed in history. Photographers with digital cameras have provided, almost instantaneously, an enormous flood of accurate, dramatic, and even shocking images to people around the world. But the daily downloads of news photos include some that are staged, fake, or so lacking in context as to be meaningless, despite the Western media's best efforts to separate the factual from the fictional....

The photo editors for Time and The New York Times' Web site declined to comment. Other publications printed images of damage from the missile strike that seem entirely accurate. For example, Newsweek and The Washington Times published wide-angle photos of locals standing beside houses that had obviously been severely damaged. The New York Times print edition published the same wide-angle photo on January 18.....

The problem sharpens when no Western reporter is on the scene, but a photographer, usually an Iraqi stringer, is. Photo editors, or even local Western bureau chiefs, have trouble judging the veracity of the images that come from such an event. Last October, for example, The Washington Post printed a striking image of four caskets, purportedly containing dead women and children, and a line of mourning men on a flat desert plain outside the town of Ramadi, west of Baghdad. The photo, provided by the Associated Press, accompanied an article that began this way:

"A U.S. fighter jet bombed a crowd gathered around a burned Humvee on the edge of a provincial capital in western Iraq, killing 25 people, including 18 children, hospital officials and family members said Monday. The military said the Sunday raid targeted insurgents planting a bomb for new attacks.

"In all, residents and hospital workers said, 39 civilians and at least 13 armed insurgents were killed in a day of U.S. airstrikes in Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, a Sunni Arab region with a heavy insurgent presence.

"The U.S. military said it killed a total of 70 insurgents in Sunday's airstrikes and, in a statement, said it knew of no civilian deaths." ....

The funeral photograph was taken by Bilal Hussein, an Iraqi stringer working for the Associated Press. AP officials declined to make Hussein available for an interview, and National Journal was unable to contact him directly in Iraq....

A series of Hussein's photographs illustrate another dilemma for photo editors -- whether to publish images that may have been created for the photographer. Last September 17, in Ramadi, Hussein took pictures after a battle at a dusty intersection. At least one U.S. armored vehicle had been damaged and towed away, leaving behind its 40-foot dull-gray metal track tread. Hussein's photographs showed the locals piling debris and auto tires onto the tread, and then celebrating as they lit a fire. Without the fire, smoke, and added debris, the photo would have presented a pretty uninteresting image of people looking at a leftover tank tread. With the smoke, fire, and debris, the image seemed to convey that a major battle had just taken place.

Weeks later, USA Today published a similar Hussein photograph from a different incident in Ramadi, which featured celebrating Sunnis, burning car tires, and a tank tread pulled over on its side.

Lyon said that AP bars photographers from asking people to change a scene, but that a crowd's spontaneous decision to change a scene in front of a cameraman presents a different situation. "You have this [dilemma] every day all around the world," he said. "There's nothing new there."

Who is Bilal Hussein? Here is one of his photos:

Bilal Hussein was in Fallujah when it was run by a Shura Council known to murder people even looking too Western. U.S. troops found torture chambers, hostages, and murdered civilians throughout the city, yet Bilal Hussein made no complaint about this, but instead chose to make blood libel accusations against U.S. troops who liberated the city.

Neal Munro makes this powerful argument as well, and proves he is a Jawa Reader:

But even these remedies would not solve the deeper problem. Because images can have a powerful impact, all sides in the Iraq war are using and pressuring photographers to tell their story, making it difficult for the photographers to act as strictly neutral observers. Iraqi insurgents, for example, frequently use videotape and photographs of their attacks on U.S. forces to magnify the propaganda impact. Insurgent groups will then distribute these images on CDs throughout the Arab world and worldwide through the Internet. The videos, usually shot at some distance from the attacks, typically show a fiery explosion enveloping a U.S. armored vehicle, but the cameras rarely show the extent of damage to the vehicle or the fate of the passengers.

Clearly, terrorists and insurgents know the value of images. In an undated letter from Osama bin Laden to the Taliban's leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, bin Laden wrote about how important the media was in Al Qaeda's war with the West. "It is obvious that the media war in this century is one of the strongest methods; in fact, its share may reach 90 percent of the total preparation for battles." The translated letter was provided by the U.S. Army's Combatting Terrorism Center at West Point.

Baz said that, today, unlike in wars past, journalists are constantly pressured to choose sides, and that many combatants on either side don't believe that journalistic neutrality exists. This wartime pressure on photographers is "terrible," Baz said. "It is absolutely unbelievable that you are automatically branded East or West, Muslim or Christian, and you have [to] go on one side or the other." The Post's Elbert echoed the lament: "We're part of the story, and that's wrong."

Journalists do not want to choose sides in this war, and that, I would argue, is the heart of the problem. Being neutral between Republicans and Democrats is part of an ethic I support. Being neutral between America and her enemies is called treason. Either you want your country to win its wars, or you do not. It's really that simple.

Related:
Complete Bilal Hussein Archives

When Journalilsts are the Enemy
The Pulitzer and Terrorist Embeds
Pulitzer Prize Given to Terrorists
Editor and Publisher Apologizes for Terrorist Embeds *shock*
Bilal Hussein dead pool.
Bilal Hussein, still anti-American

By Rusty Shackleford, Ph.D. at 04:08 PM | Comments |