Dear Secretary Rumsfeld:
The Committee to Protect Journalists wishes to express its grave concern about the continuing detention of Iraqi journalists by the U.S. military in Iraq. U.S. forces have routinely detained Iraqi reporters or photojournalists since the March 2003 invasion of Iraq. In several cases, individual journalists have been held for weeks or months without charge or due process.
In 2005 alone, CPJ has documented seven cases in which reporters, photographers, and cameramen were detained for prolonged periods without charge or the disclosure of any supporting evidence. These detentions have involved journalists working for CBS News, Reuters, The Associated Press, and Agence France-Presse, among others. At least three documented detentions have exceeded 100 days; the others have involved detentions of many weeks. In at least five cases documented by CPJ, the detainees were photojournalists who initially drew the military’s attention because of what they had filmed or photographed.
In several cases, U.S. military officials have voiced suspicions that some Iraqi journalists collaborated with Iraqi insurgents and had advance knowledge of attacks on coalition forces. But the military has never provided evidence to substantiate any claims, despite repeated inquiries over many months, and nearly all of the journalists detained on such suspicions have been released without charge.
Today, at least four detainees remain in U.S. custody. They include:
• Abdul Ameer Younis Hussein, CBS News. Hussein, an Iraqi cameraman working for CBS News, was taken into custody after being wounded by U.S. forces’ fire on April 5 while he filmed clashes in Mosul in northern Iraq. CBS News reported at the time that the U.S. military said footage in the journalist’s camera led them to suspect he had prior knowledge of attacks on coalition forces. AFP also cited U.S. officials as saying the journalist “tested positive for explosive residue.” No charges have been made public and the evidence used to hold him remains classified. The New York Times reported this month that the U.S. military referred Hussein’s case to Iraqi justice officials who reviewed Hussein’s file but declined to prosecute him. Nevertheless, Hussein remains in U.S. custody today. U.S. military officials, meanwhile, have stuck to vague accusations that Hussein was “engaged in anti-coalition activity,” and that he had been “recruiting and inciting Iraqi nationals to violence against coalition forces and participating in attacks against coalition forces.” Military officials have yet to provide any evidence to support these accusations.
• Ali Mashhadani, Reuters. Mashhadani, a freelance photographer and cameraman for Reuters news agency, has been held incommunicado and without explanation by U.S. forces since August 8. Mashhadani was taken from his home in Ramadi during a general sweep of the neighborhood by U.S. Marines who became suspicious after seeing pictures on his cameras, Reuters quoted his family as saying. He is being held in Abu Ghraib Prison. Reuters reported last month that a US-Iraqi Combined Review and Release Board (CRRB) had determined that Mashhadani posed a “threat” and ordered his continued detention. U.S. officials told Reuters that Mashhadani would be denied access to counsel or family for 60 days, but would be granted a review of his case within 180 days. Officials have yet to substantiate the basis for his continued detention.
• Majed Hameed, Al-Arabiya, Reuters. Hameed, a reporter working with the Dubai-based broadcaster Al-Arabiya who also freelances for Reuters, was arrested along with several other men at a gathering after the funeral of a relative on September 15 in Anbar province. Both Reuters and Al-Arabiya have said his arrest appears connected to footage found on his camera by U.S. troops. U.S. officials, however, have not specified the basis for his detention. According to Al-Arabiya, Hameed is being held at a U.S. facility in western Anbar province.
• Samir Mohammed Noor, Reuters. Reuters reported this week that its freelance television cameraman Noor was arrested by Iraqi troops at his home in the northern town of Tal Afar in May 2005 and has been ordered detained indefinitely by the CRRB, which oversees detentions in Iraq. A U.S. military spokesman told the news agency that Noor was determined to be “an imperative threat to the coalition forces and the security of Iraq” and his case would be reviewed within six months U.S. officials have not said what he is accused of. Reuters said he was being held at camp Bucca, in southern Iraq.
Journalists have a professional duty to cover events in Iraq including the actions of the U.S. military. Their proximity to the battlefield and the presence of photographs of the insurgency should not be used as the basis for indefinite detention. At the very least, the media organizations that employ journalists should be contacted as part of the review process. We find these open-ended, unsubstantiated detentions an unacceptable interference in the work of media professionals. They threaten to undermine the ability of the media to report on events in Iraq, especially as international news organizations rely heavily on Iraqi journalists to work in frontline newsgathering. Moreover, by holding journalists for weeks or months without charge and on the basis of secret “evidence,” the United States, which has publicly committed its support for democracy and human rights in Iraq, sends a troubling message to Iraqis that it is not accountable for its actions. It is noteworthy that even Iraqi officials have taken exception to the detentions. Earlier this month Justice Minister Abdul Hussein Shandal criticized prolonged detentions by the U.S. military and expressed concerns that journalists were not being afforded appropriate protections in reporting on events in Iraq.
We call on you to ensure that the U.S. military cease the use of these detentions at once and that officials credibly explain the basis for the detentions of those currently being held, or release them immediately.