New York, January 16, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes the release of two Iraqi journalists detained by the U.S. military without charge for several months, but calls again for U.S. officials to specify charges against at least three other journalists still in custody or to release the detainees at once. Two journalists are still held without charge in Iraq, and one is imprisoned at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
Ali al-Mashhadani, a television cameraman working for Reuters, and Majed Hameed, a correspondent working for Reuters and the Dubai-based broadcaster Al-Arabiya, were released from Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison on Sunday, Reuters reported. They were freed without charge as part of a larger prisoner release that included around 500 Iraqi detainees.
Al-Mashhadani, a freelance photographer and cameraman, had been held incommunicado and without explanation by U.S. forces since August 8. Al-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. After his detention, a U.S.-Iraqi Combined Review and Release Board (CRRB) determined that al-Mashhadani posed a “threat” and ordered his continued detention. Officials did not publicly substantiate the basis for his detention.
Hameed 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 said his arrest appeared connected to footage found on his camera by U.S. troops. U.S. officials never specified the basis for his detention.
CPJ had repeatedly urged the U.S. military to disclose evidence of criminal wrongdoing or release the journalists.
“While we’re relieved our colleagues have regained their freedom, it’s alarming that these journalists were each held for several months without charge, explanation, or any semblance of due process,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “U.S. officials need to provide long-overdue explanations as to why these journalists were held in the first place. They should also explain the basis for holding the three other journalists or release the men 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, After Sunday’s release, at least three other journalists remain in U.S. custody. 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.
Samir Mohammed Noor, Reuters. Freelance cameraman Noor was arrested by Iraqi troops at his home in the northern town of Tal Afar in May 2005. 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.” U.S. officials have not disclosed any charges against him or any evidence supporting his detention. Reuters said he was being held at Camp Bucca, in southern Iraq.
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.