U.S military releases detained Reuters photographer in Iraq

New York, February 10, 2010—The Committee to Protect Journalists is relieved that the U.S military has released Iraqi photographer and cameraman Ibrahim Jassam today after holding him without charge for 17 months in Iraq, but calls on the U.S. government to ensure that this release marks the end of its policy of open-ended detentions of journalists.

Jassam, left, a freelancer who worked for Reuters, was arrested on September 2, 2008, by U.S and Iraqi forces during a raid on his home in Mahmoodiya, south of Baghdad. Jassam was never charged with a crime, and no evidence against him was ever disclosed; U.S. forces made only vague assertions that he was a “threat.”

We welcome the release of Ibrahim Jassam but we remain deeply concerned by the lack of due process exercised in this and similar, previous cases, said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. The U.S. military must commit to making this the last time they hold a journalist without charge in an open-ended detention.”

Pentagon spokeswoman Patricia Johnson told CPJ today that Jassam “was detained as a security threat in September 2008 as the result of activity with an insurgent organization.” She said that while he was never charged, the military found that “there was intelligence evidence against him,” without specifying what the evidence was.

I am very pleased his long incarceration without charge is finally over,said Reuters Editor-in-Chief David Schlesinger. I wish the process to release a man who had no specific accusations against him had been swifter.

In November 2008, the Iraqi Central Criminal Court ruled there was no evidence to hold Jassam and ordered the U.S. military to free him. U.S. military authorities defied the order, saying the journalist “continued to pose a serious threat to the security and stability of Iraq” and refused to let him go.

CPJ has repeatedly denounced the U.S military’s practice of detaining journalists without charging them with a crime or providing them with due process. On several occasions, CPJ has raised the matter with officials at the White House and the Department of Defense, including in a letter sent to President Barack Obama and in a meeting in December 2009 with National Security Advisor Gen. James L. Jones. In each case, CPJ lobbied for Jassam’s immediate release.

CPJ has documented 14 cases in which journalists have been held by U.S. forces abroad for weeks or months without charge or conviction. All were released without charges being corroborated. Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein was held for two years on vague accusations that he collaborated with Iraqi insurgents before being released in April 2008. Jassam was the only journalist remaining in U.S. custody, according to CPJ research.

In Afghanistan, the U.S. military held an Afghan journalist who worked for Canadian Television, Jawed Ahmad, for 11 months without charge at Bagram Air Base until his release in September 2008.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The original alert was modified in the fourth paragraph to update with the Pentagon’s response.