U.S. Military detains Reuters “Haditha” reporter for security concerns
By DAVID PAULIN
Western media outlets have reported on the Iraq war by relying heavily on Iraqis -- young men quickly trained to be photojournalists and reporters. Yet their motives and loyalties have not always been beyond repute. Yesterday, this was evident once again as Reuters reported on the arrest of one of its own last Saturday.
U.S. military forces detained Reuters photographer Ali al-Mashhadani due to “security concerns." He was handcuffed and led away by U.S. military forces in Baghdad's Green Zone, while he visited a government facility to obtain a U.S. military press card, Reuters reported. Twice before, U.S. military forces had detained al-Mashhadani, also due to security concerns; he was reporting at the time from Sunni-dominated Anbar Provence. Besides Reuters, al-Mashhadani has worked for BBC and Washington-based National Public Radio.
Two years ago, al-Mashhadani's journalism career got a boost when he fanned the flames of the now-debunked “Haditha massacre.” In his report for Reuters on March 21, 2006, he described a “rampage by U.S. soldiers that left a trail of bullet-riddled bodies and destruction.”
In Thursday's story, Reuters rushed to al-Mashhadani's defense It echoed the line used by the Associated Press when one of its photographers was detained for security concerns. Reuters declared that military authorities should “immediately release” al-Mashhadani -- or “publicly produce evidence to justify his detention.” However, U.S. military authorities are unlikely to release such evidence. After all, it was probably obtained through intelligence gathering that included informants and other methods; both would be compromised if Reuters had its way.
During the Vietnam War, reporting like al-Mashhadani's presented a distorted imagine of the war, helping to turn Americans against it. This has yet to happen in Iraq to the extent it did in Vietnam. Now, the blogosphere is serving as a counter-weight to the mainstream's often problematic reporting. The blog Sweetness & Light, for instance, has been onto al-Mashhadani for some time.
Like other Iraqi stringers and freelancers whom bloggers have sharply criticized, al-Mashhadani has a curious talent -- he moves unimpeded among Iraq's insurgents and Al-Qaida terrorists. This brought him to the attention of military authorities in August, 2005. During a search of his home in Ramadi, Anbar Provence's capital, troops found photos of insurgent activity in his camera. He was released after some five months. Not long after that, he shocked the world with his report of the Haditha massacre, a coincidence of timing noted by Sweetness & Light. A few months later, military forces detained him a second time for two weeks.
The AP has had problems with some of its Iraqi employees, too. AP photographer Bilal Hussein was held by U.S. military forces for two years. Last February, he was released as part of a U.S.-backed amnesty law aimed at national reconciliation. A former Fallujah shopkeeper who sold cell phones, Hussein was hired by the AP because he knew the area. One of his photos was part of a package of 20 AP photos that won a Pulitzer Prize; it showed four insurgents firing a mortar and small arms during an offensive by U.S.-led forces in November, 2004.
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