New York, April 9, 2008—The Committee Protect Journalists welcomes an Iraqi judicial committee’s decision to drop legal proceedings against Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein, who has been held by U.S. authorities for two years on allegations shrouded in secrecy. The committee ordered that Hussein be freed “immediately” if no other charges were pending, AP reported today.
AP said it was not clear whether Hussein would face other obstacles to his release. U.S. military authorities say that under a U.N. mandate, they may hold a detainee as a security risk even if the Iraqi judicial system has ordered the person freed, AP reported.
Hussein, an Iraqi who shared in the AP’s 2005 Pulitzer Prize, was detained by U.S. forces on April 12, 2006, and held on vague and shifting allegations that he had ties to Iraqi insurgents. But U.S. authorities never charged Hussein with a crime, nor did they publicly disclose evidence against him. In November 20007, the U.S. military informed AP that it would refer Hussein’s case to the Iraqi justice system for possible prosecution. An Iraq court granted Hussein a closed-door hearing on December 9, but a judge ordered that details of the hearing be kept secret and placed a gag order on the participants.
“The detention of Bilal Hussein has been a terrible injustice, and we are relieved that his ordeal might finally come to an end after nearly two years behind bars,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “It is alarming that he has been held this long without being charged and having had only a single day in court. We look forward to his speedy release.”
AP said today that the Iraqi judicial committee ordered Hussein freed under the country’s new amnesty law, which closes a case and does not reflect guilt. AP President Thomas Curley today called on the U.S. military to “finally do the right thing” and free Hussein.
CPJ research shows that Hussein’s detention is not an isolated incident. Over the last four 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. In one highly publicized case, Abdul Ameer Younis Hussein, a freelance cameraman working for CBS, was detained after being wounded by U.S. military fire as he filmed clashes in Mosul in northern Iraq on April 5, 2005. U.S. military officials claimed footage in his camera led them to suspect Hussein had prior knowledge of attacks on coalition forces. In April 2006, a year after his arrest, Hussein was freed after an Iraqi criminal court, citing a lack of evidence, acquitted him of collaborating with insurgents.
Worldwide, the U.S. military continues to hold at least two other journalists without charge or due process. Al-Jazeera cameraman Sami al-Haj has been held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, after being detained in Pakistan in December 2001. CPJ outlined the case and called for due process in a special report in October 2006, “The Enemy?” The military is also holding Jawed Ahmad, a journalist for Canada’s CTV, at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. Ahmad has been held since October 26, 2007, according to CTV.