Acquitted after year-long detention, CBS cameraman released

New York, April 7, 2006—An Iraqi cameraman held for more than a year by U.S. forces in Iraq without due process was released on Thursday, CBS News has confirmed. Abdul Ameer Younis Hussein, who was working for CBS, was freed a day after an Iraqi criminal court, citing a lack of evidence, acquitted him of collaborating with insurgents. No charges were made public until the trial itself.

“We’re pleased that Hussein has at last been given back his freedom but remain very troubled that he needlessly spent a year of his life in prison without the most basic due process,” said Ann Cooper. “We hope the U.S. military has put an end to these unacceptable open-ended detentions, which have interfered with the ability of journalists to do their work.”

Hussein was detained 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 his camera led them to suspect Hussein had prior knowledge of attacks on coalition forces.

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 until the recent trial. For months, U.S. military officials 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.”

Scott Horton, an American lawyer representing Hussein in Baghdad, said Wednesday that Hussein was accused of having prior knowledge of the car bombing that sparked the clashes. Horton said Hussein was also accused of celebrating the attacks with Iraqis; The Associated Press reported that Hussein stood next to an armed man who was inciting the crowd.

Hussein said he was at the scene to film the fighting.

CPJ documented seven cases in 2005 alone in which U.S. forces detained Iraqi journalists for periods of many weeks or months without charge or due process. Of the seven long-term detainee cases documented by CPJ, all but Hussein were eventually released without charge. The detained journalists, most of them Iraqis working for Western news organizations, were held on vague accusations that they had prior knowledge of attacks on coalition forces, or that they collaborated with insurgents. In at least five cases documented by CPJ, the detainees were photojournalists who drew the military’s attention because of what they had filmed or photographed.

U.S. officials signaled a shift in policy last month, pledging to undertake prompt, high-level reviews whenever journalists are detained by troops in Iraq. Maj. Gen. John Gardner told Reuters that the military will review cases of detained journalists within 36 hours, and news organizations will be given the chance to vouch for their journalists.

“We are aware that journalists, by the nature of their duties, often will be at the scene of attacks when they occur,” Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman told CPJ at the time.