In Iraq, CBS cameraman faces trial Wednesday

New York, March 21, 2006—An Iraqi cameraman held by U.S. forces for nearly a year without charge will stand trial in Baghdad on Wednesday, CBS News and a U.S. military spokesman said late today. Abdul Ameer Younis Hussein, a freelance cameraman working for CBS News, will be prosecuted at the Central Criminal Court of Iraq at 9 a.m., Lt. Col. Keir-Kevin Curry told CPJ from Iraq. Curry would not elaborate on the charges against Hussein.

Linda Mason, a CBS News senior vice president, told CPJ that the cameraman is likely to be charged under the Iraqi penal code for terrorist and anti-coalition activity. She said CBS News did not receive word of the proceeding until 10 p.m. Baghdad time today. Mason said she expects the proceeding to be open to the press.

Hussein was taken into custody after being wounded by U.S. forces’ fire as he filmed clashes in Mosul in northern Iraq on April 5, 2005. 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 Hussein has remained classified. The New York Times reported last year that the U.S. military referred Hussein’s case to Iraqi justice officials who reviewed Hussein’s file but declined to prosecute. 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.”

“The court must ensure a fair and open process, and authorities need to substantiate their case,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “So far, the handling of this case has been alarming. It’s unacceptable that Hussein was held without charge or due process for so long.”

In 2005, CPJ documented seven cases in which reporters, photographers, and cameramen were detained for prolonged periods by U.S. forces in Iraq without charge or the disclosure of any supporting evidence. The detentions involved journalists working for CBS News, Reuters, The Associated Press, and Agence France-Presse, among others. At least three documented detentions exceeded 100 days; the others spanned many weeks. All of the detainees except Hussein were eventually released without charge.

Reuters quoted a senior U.S. commander today as saying that the military plans to expedite the handling of detained journalists in the future. Maj. Gen. John Gardner said that his office will attempt to review all cases involving detained journalists within 36 hours. U.S. military spokesmen in Washington and Baghdad told CPJ they could not immediately comment on the reported policy change.