Iraq: Reuters cameraman freed after 12 days in U.S. custody

New York, June 2, 2006— An Iraqi cameraman for Reuters news agency was released Thursday after being held for 12 days by the U.S. military. Ali al-Mashhadani, 37, was arrested at a U.S. base in his home town of Ramadi on May 20 while trying to recover Reuters cell phones confiscated from him a week earlier, Reuters reported. It said U.S. officials deemed the cameraman a security threat, although no allegation or charge was made against him. Al-Mashhadani was repeatedly interviewed about his work as a journalist in Anbar province, Reuters said.

The journalist was held incommunicado for 10 days by U.S. Marines before being transferred to military officials in Baghdad. There, for the last two days of his detention, he came under the direct control of senior U.S. commanders. He was released under a fast-track procedure for reviewing the detention of journalists which was established in March. U.S. military rules allow local commanders to detain individuals for 14 days before releasing them or sending them to Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison.

“Military officials should explain why Ali al-Mashhadani was held for nearly two weeks for no apparent reason and questioned about his work,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper.

This was Al-Mashhadani’s second detention. In January, he released without charge after being held incommunicado since August 8, 2005 by U.S. forces. Al-Mashhadani was taken from 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 he posed a “threat,” and ordered his continued detention. Officials gave no evidence to justify his detention.

In the last year, CPJ documented seven cases in which reporters, photographers, and cameramen were detained for prolonged periods without charge or the disclosure of any supporting evidence. All were released, among them Abdul Ameer Younis Hussein, a cameraman for CBS. He was held for a year without charge. In early April, he was tried and acquitted of collaborating with insurgents and freed a day later. Several of the detainees were photojournalists who initially drew the military’s attention because of what they had filmed or photographed.

According to Reuters, Al-Mashhadani reported from the town of Haditha in March, following Time magazine’s revelation of accusations that U.S. Marines shot dead 24 civilians there in November. Al-Mashhadani filmed fresh interviews with local officials and residents that were widely used by international media, the agency said.