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November 24, 2007

Hussein Update (plus: Bombs The Way)


(click for full size)

If you didn’t know anything about the photo, you might assume you were looking at damage inflicted on Lebanon by the Israeli Air Force in Summer ‘06.  In fact, this picture  — dating back to October 2004 and the American siege of Fallujah — is significant for two reasons.

First, it leads off an excellent msnbc slide show collecting, in one place, a sample of photos by  photographer Bilal Hussein.  If you’re not up on the story, Hussein — who was part of a group of AP photographers that earned a Pulitzer prize in 2005 for their work in Iraq — has been held by the U.S. Military in Iraq for more than a year-and-a-half.  His detention followed allegations by right-wing bloggers (simply based on the content of his photos) that he was connected with insurgents.

(Scott Horton at Harpers discusses the flimsiness of the impending criminal charges to be filed against Hussein by the DOD.)

Second, the photograph foreshadows a strategy that has been gaining momentum since the beginning of the year (if not well before that).  Despite reports that coalition airstrikes in Iraq have increased fourfold in the first nine months of this year over ‘06, both the fact, and the fallout, seems to to get little play in the domestic media.  (Notice, by the way, how the USAT piece I just linked to parrots military talking points that munitions are more accurate and less lethal.  As Air Force Brig. Gen. Stephen Mueller says in the article: a lot of today’s bombs are now “designed to take one building and not the whole block.”)

Still, I doubt you can say that blowing up fewer Iraqis (especially innocent civilians), while affording the ability to place fewer American boots on the ground, is doing a lot for winning hearts and minds.

(image: Bilal Hussein/AP.  Fallujah.  October 12, 2004.  via

  • John Stephen Lewis

    “I needed a human element. Forgive me. I did something that was considered a no-no in the industry. I grabbed my pre-school son, Douglas, and had his Mom get him suited up for the cold. I got him to squat on the ground amid the frozen grass and CLICKCLICK, I knew that I had it…
    “…Oh, yeah. I changed my kid’s name in the caption. My bad. But, I’ll wager that I’m not the only news photographer who ever did that.”
    -that was Dick Kraus bragging in this months Digital Journalist how he got the shot.

  • jtfromBC

    TMO’s ?
    - the Pentagon called Hussein a “terrorist media operative (who infiltrated the AP.”)
    y’all gotta just love military parlance eh !

  • Darryl Pearce

    …about as surgical as a visit by Godzilla.
    Only in the United States can we understand our current events except through the lens of fiction.

  • MonsieurGonzo

    Bilal Hussein’s photographs do stand in stark contrast to the vapid works of many Western photojournalists of the same era. It’s easy to see why our AngloAmerican Iraq Occupation Forces would see such images as these, and many others (all quite common on global media, e.g., al jazeera, as well as CANAL+ in France, fwiw) as “unhelpful,” to say the least. It’s quite easy to FRAME the incarceration of the man and criticism of his photographs as a ‘Freedom of the Press’ issue, and condemn the U.S. for its persecution apparent of Mr. Hussein. It’s not so easy to see that there is more than meets the eye here ~ that, although the U.S. has quite obviously botched it vis-a-vis Mr. Hussein, there is in fact a fascinating moral dilemma for us to explore: What do you do when you capture Leni Riefenstahl, or Fritz Hippler?
    So let’s start at the beginning, the image made by Mr. Hussein that BAGman has here posted. It is colorless, certainly no RED; an aftermath of violence; an ominous yet graveyard calm. Certainly the image screams for our outrage, but we see neither the bloody victims nor the sanguine perpetrators of this stupendous crime. This is classical, passive photojournalism: an ex post facto document of WHAT HAPPENED.
    It makes no judgement; there are no ‘two sides’ to this story, nor degree of truthiness to it. The collective block was destroyed. Whether there was within a band of guerilla fighters, or just a solitary “sniper” resistance fighter is irrelevant: because it’s all blown to hell now, along with any non-combatant innocents anywhere near the now obliterated bull’s eye, period.
    Next we see images made by Mr. Hussein of the victims of violence. RED is everywhere. They are horrific ~ they make you “jerk” in sympathetic pangs to their pain ~ you not only feel it, you swear you can hear them screaming, that you will forever remember the smell of ‘being there’, in that rubble, or hospital room; you feel so helpless; you do certainly hurt. Finally your mind gains control over your emotions and you see how well-composed, craftsmanlike these images are. You marvel at how dispassionate the photojournalist had to be, to record this scene, with such skill; unaffected, with all his faculties intact.
    Next we see images of “insurgents”. Let’s not mince words, they are in fact resistance fighters, yes? They are irregular guerrillas fighting against our AngloAmerican Occupation Forces. Sometimes the images show the guerrillas just lounging around, or even posing for the camera. Sometimes the images show the guerrillas actually in combat ~ we cannot SEE what they are firing at, but we do know WHAT they are firing at: US! At first you may think, “How rare, to see the resistance in action.” Perhaps after viewing several such images, you also realize, “How rare, for any photographer to be able to make an active document of the violence, en flagrante : while the crime is blazing.

  • MonsieurGonzo

    Then we see an image made by Mr. Hussein of an execution. Some guerrillas are pointing their weapons at some kneeling, blindfolded, handcuffed man. They are about to blow his head off. We don’t know WHO the victim is… if this is not a sectarian, Sunni:Shi’ite ‘ethnic cleansing’ murder, then it must be someone who was perceived by these men to be a ‘collaborator’ : perhaps a translator? or a clerk? or a cleaning woman? some otherwise innocent Iraqi whom they discovered, worked for US. You feel pity. You note: we are no longer photographing ex post facto; or en flagrante; Rather, we are here seeing a priori.
    Next we see an image made by Mr. Hussein of an assassination. It is broad daylight; a man, some ‘official’ wearing a suit & tie has been dragged out of a car in what looks like some City Center. >BLAM!< the gun is going off as the shutter is being snapped.
    Wow! Talk about your
    Henri Cartier-Bresson moment! les chanceux !
    Finally we see Mr. Hussein’s document of an IED, at the very moment it is blowing up some vehicle within an AngloAmerican convoy…
    …he not only photographs this attack, he propagates this image on Arabic & world-wide media…
    “…too much!” The American commander says. “Toss him in jail!” At some point, Mr. Hussein crossed the line. Where?
    What do you do, when you capture their photographer? What’s do you charge him with? i mean, he’s telling the truth, yet he is not simply ‘photographing’, it’s not as simple an issue apparent as “Freedom of the Press,” is it?
    Is there such a thing as “Freedom of Propaganda” -??

  • Elio Emiliano Ligi

    Thanks for taking my message. So, Mr. Bagwhan, what exactly do you have against the war on terror that doesn’t involve racism and sexism against Secretary of Misstatement Condoleeza Rice, whom many believe to be more relevant to the next 2,000 years of the Bush administration legacy than the Virgin Mary? I’ll take my answer off the Ted Stevens Tubeway.
    I love your show.

  • martin

    Hands on hips bagpholk. Hands on hip. Nonchalant disregard life. I as much as anyone else am guilty: of a basic disreguard of esential life. How many of your own people and of the other will it take b4 u sit up and take notice. You are killing people to essentially save lives. Whose lives? Your brothers. mothers sissters brothers? Whose lives are u taking/saving. ours/ mine /yours?

  • jtfromBC

    As Iraq is one vast Crime Scene.
    Shaping news becomes a major military imperative.
    Happy stories get planted.
    A foreign TV station is obliterated and every so often people like Hussein get arrested.
    Whats new ?

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