New York, April 16, 2008—Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein was freed today from U.S. custody in Iraq, ending a two-year ordeal in which he fended off unsubstantiated accusations from the U.S. military that he collaborated with Iraqi insurgents.
The AP reported that Hussein was “handed over to AP colleagues on Wednesday in Baghdad.”
“We are thrilled that Bilal Hussein’s troubling ordeal has finally come to an end and that he is now a free man,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “He now joins a growing list of journalists detained in conflict zones by the U.S. military for prolonged periods and eventually released without any charges or crimes ever substantiated against them. This deplorable practice should be of concern to all journalists. It basically allows the U.S. military to remove journalists from the field, lock them up, and never be compelled to say why.
“The U.S. can begin to erase this blemish on its record by halting open-ended and unsupported detentions and promptly charging or releasing those it continues to hold.”
Hussein was released after an Iraqi judicial committee dropped legal proceedings against him on April 9 and ordered him freed under the country’s new amnesty law, which closes a case and does not reflect guilt. A separate Iraqi panel ordered a “halt to all legal proceedings” against Hussein on a remaining accusation on Sunday, the AP reported. The U.S. military agreed to release the journalist after determining that he “no longer presents an imperative threat to security.”
Hussein, an Iraqi who shared in the AP’s 2005 Pulitzer Prize for photography, was detained by U.S. forces on April 12, 2006, and held on vague and shifting allegations that he had ties to Iraqi insurgents. But U.S. authorities never charged Hussein with a crime, nor did they publicly disclose evidence against him. In November 20007, the U.S. military informed the AP that it would refer Hussein’s case to the Iraqi justice system for possible prosecution.
An Iraqi court granted Hussein a closed-door hearing on December 9, but a judge ordered that details of the hearing be kept secret and placed a gag order on the participants.
In addition to Hussein’s case, there are at least eight others documented by CPJ of Iraqi journalists who have been held by U.S. forces for weeks or months without charge or conviction.
Worldwide, the U.S. military continues to hold at least two other journalists without charge or due process. Al-Jazeera cameraman Sami al-Haj has been held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, after being detained in Pakistan in December 2001. CPJ outlined the case and called for due process in a special report in October 2006, “The Enemy?” The military is also holding Jawed Ahmad, a journalist for Canada’s CTV, at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. Ahmad has been held since October 26, 2007, according to CTV.