New York, April 10, 2007—The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on the United States to release Bilal Hussein, an Iraqi photojournalist for The Associated Press, who has been held in a U.S. prison in Iraq for a year without charge.
Hussein, a Pulitzer Prize winner, was taken by U.S. forces on April 12 in the western city of Ramadi, the capital of Iraq’s Anbar province, and held in a U.S. prison in Iraq for “imperative reasons of security.” One year later, he has not been tried or charged with a crime, and the military has disclosed no evidence of criminal wrongdoing.
“The United States must release our colleague Bilal Hussein,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “The authorities have had a full year to produce evidence and bring charges but have failed to do so.”
According to the AP, the most specific allegation cited by U.S. officials—that Hussein was involved in the Iraqi insurgent kidnapping of two Arab journalists in Ramadi—was discredited after AP investigated the claim. The two abducted journalists had not implicated Hussein in the kidnapping; they had instead praised him for his assistance when they were released. The military’s only evidence supporting its claim appeared to be images of the released journalists that were found in Hussein’s camera, AP said.
Only a month before Hussein’s arrest, U.S. Maj. Gen. John Gardner told Reuters he established a new process to ensure high-level, 36-hour reviews of all journalist detentions. He ordered U.S. troops across Iraq to report the arrest of anyone claiming to be a journalist to him personally. He also said news organizations would be given the chance to vouch for their journalists. The change, he added, was designed to ensure that “we don’t hold someone for six or eight months” and applied only to journalists whom the military did not label “security threats.” It set no apparent standards of due process.
Hussein’s detention is not an isolated incident. Over the last three years, dozens of journalists—mostly Iraqis—have been detained by U.S. troops, according to CPJ research. While most have been released after short periods, in at least eight cases documented by CPJ Iraqi journalists have been held by U.S. forces for weeks or months without charge or conviction.
The U.S. military continues to hold Al-Jazeera cameraman Sami al-Haj in detention at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Al-Haj, first detained in Pakistan in December 2001, has not been charged or provided due process. CPJ outlined the case and called for due process in a special report in October 2006, “The Enemy?”