New York, January 23, 2006—The U.S. military freed an Iraqi television cameraman on Sunday after holding the journalist without charge for nearly eight months. Samir Mohammed Noor, a freelancer working for Reuters, was released from detention in Camp Bucca in southern Iraq.
The military continues to hold without charge at least one journalist in Iraq and another at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The Committee to Protect Journalists called on the U.S. military to disclose evidence of criminal wrongdoing against the journalists still in custody or release the two immediately.
Iraqi troops arrested Noor, 30, at his home in the northern town of Tal Afar. A U.S. military spokesman initially told Reuters that Noor was “an imperative threat to the coalition forces and the security of Iraq,” but U.S. officials did not disclose any evidence supporting the detention. Initially held at Abu Ghraib prison, Noor was later transferred to Camp Bucca. Noor was freed without charge, and a U.S. spokesman told news organizations that the military had no comment on the case.
Two other journalists working for Reuters, cameraman Ali al-Mashhadani and reporter Majed Hameed, were freed without charge on January 15 as part of a prisoner release that included about 500 Iraqi detainees. They were each held for several months.
“Samir Mohammed Noor should not have been jailed for eight months without charge, explanation, or due process,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “The military owes an explanation for this open-ended and unsubstantiated detention. U.S. officials should also credibly explain the basis for the other detentions or release those journalists immediately.”
The United States rose to sixth among countries jailing journalists worldwide—holding at least five—when CPJ conducted its annual census of imprisoned journalists on December 1, 2005. Two journalists remain in U.S. custody today. They are:
• 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 as he filmed clashes in Mosul in northern Iraq on April 5. 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. Agence France-Presse 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 that the U.S. military referred Hussein’s case to Iraqi justice officials who reviewed Hussein’s file but declined to prosecute him. U.S. military officials have made unspecific accusations that Hussein was “engaged in anti-coalition activity” and was “recruiting and inciting Iraqi nationals to violence against coalition forces and participating in attacks against coalition forces.” Military officials have not disclosed any evidence to support these accusations.
• Sami Muhyideen al-Haj, Al-Jazeera. Al-Haj, a 35-year-old Sudanese national and assistant cameraman for Al-Jazeera, was detained by Pakistani forces after he and an Al-Jazeera reporter attempted to re-enter southern Afghanistan at the Chaman border crossing in Pakistan, in December 2001. Al-Jazeera said it learned of al-Haj’s detention—first at a U.S. detention camp in Afghanistan and later at the U.S. military facility in Guantánamo Bay—from letters he sent to the station and to his wife in care of Al-Jazeera, beginning in April 2002. Al-Haj’s lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, told CPJ in October 2005 that his client was being held as an accused enemy combatant. Smith said no specific allegations had been lodged, and his client denied any wrongdoing. U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Chris Loundermon, a spokesman for the U.S. Southern Command, which administers the Guantánamo military facility, would not provide any information about al-Haj, nor would he confirm the journalist’s detention. He said the information constituted confidential intelligence. The Guardian of London reported in September 2005 that U.S. military interrogators allegedly tried to recruit al-Haj as a spy. Interrogators allegedly told him he would be released if he agreed to inform U.S. intelligence authorities about the satellite news network’s activities, Smith told The Guardian and CPJ.