THE DETENTION OF AP PHOTOGRAPHER BILAL HUSSEIN


April 9, 2008


Detained AP photographer granted amnesty by Iraqi panel after 2 years in US custody


By ROBERT H. REID
Associated Press Writer

BAGHDAD (AP) -- An Iraqi judicial committee has dismissed terrorism-related allegations against Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein and ordered him released nearly two years after he was detained by the U.S. military.

Hussein, 36, remained in custody Wednesday at Camp Cropper, a U.S. detention facility near Baghdad's airport.

A decision by a four-judge panel said Hussein's case falls under a new amnesty law. It ordered Iraqi courts to "cease legal proceedings" and ruled that Hussein should be "immediately" released unless other accusations are pending.

The ruling is dated Monday but AP's lawyers were not able to thoroughly review it until Wednesday. It was unclear, however, whether Hussein would still face further obstacles to release.

U.S. military authorities have said a U.N. Security Council mandate allows them to retain custody of a detainee they believe is a security risk even if an Iraqi judicial body has ordered that prisoner freed. The U.N. mandate is due to expire at the end of this year.

Also, the amnesty committee's ruling on Hussein may not cover a separate allegation that has been raised in connection with the case.

AP President Tom Curley hailed the committee's decision and demanded that the U.S. military "finally do the right thing" and free Hussein.

In response to a question from the AP, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said it "will be up to officials in Iraq" on whether to release Hussein. The decision, he said, will be "based upon their assessment as to whether he remains a threat."

Under Iraq's 2-month-old amnesty law, a grant of amnesty effectively closes a case and does not assume guilt of the accused.

Hussein has been held by the U.S. military since being detained by Marines on April 12, 2006, in Ramadi, about 70 miles west of Baghdad. Throughout his incarceration, he has maintained he is innocent and was only doing the work of a professional news photographer in a war zone.

The amnesty committee's decision covers various allegations by the U.S. military against Hussein, including claims he was in possession of bomb-making material, conspired with insurgents to take photographs synchronized with an explosion and offered to secure a forged ID for a terrorist evading capture by the military.

The committee may still be reviewing a separate allegation that Hussein had contacts with the kidnappers of an Italian citizen, Salvatore Santoro, whose body was photographed by Hussein in December 2004 with two masked insurgents standing over Santoro with guns.

Hussein was one of three journalists who were stopped at gunpoint by insurgents and taken by them to see the propped-up body. None of the journalists witnessed his death, said Santiago Lyon, AP's director of photography. The AP wrote a story about the incident at the time.

The AP said a review of Hussein's work and contacts also found no evidence of any activities beyond the normal role of a news photographer. Hussein was a member of an AP team that won a Pulitzer Prize for photography in 2005, and his detention has drawn protests from rights groups and press freedom advocates such as the Committee to Protect Journalists.

"The Amnesty Committee took only a few days to determine what we have been saying for two years. Bilal Hussein must be freed immediately," said Curley, the AP's president.

"The U.S. military has said the Iraqi process should be allowed to work. It has, and the military must finally do the right thing by ending its detention of a journalist who did nothing more than his job. Bilal's imprisonment stands as a sad black mark on American values of justice and fairness," Curley added.

The U.S. military referred the case in December to an investigating judge, who reviewed the evidence and submitted his findings to the Central Criminal Court of Iraq to determine whether the case should go to trial.

In February, however, parliament approved a law providing amnesty to those held for insurgency-related offenses -- including detainees such as Hussein who have never been convicted.

The committee from the Iraqi Federal Appeals Court ruled Monday that allegations against Hussein were covered by the Anti-Terrorist Law and were subject to the amnesty law.
The order was sent to the Iraqi public prosecutor, but it was unclear if it had been received.
A lawyer for the AP was provided a copy of the order, but Wednesday was a public holiday in Iraq and government offices were closed.

The amnesty committee -- or any Iraqi institution -- cannot force the U.S. military to release or turn over any of the estimated 23,000 detainees it holds in Iraq. But a provision in the amnesty law states that the Iraqi government "is committed to take the necessary measures to move the arrested people" from U.S. control.

"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 Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Sylvia Smith, president of the National Press Club in Washington, called the amnesty ruling "a long-overdue decision."

"The next step is to free him," she said.
___
Associated Press military writer Robert Burns in Washington and AP writer Carley Petesch in New York contributed to this report.
___
On the Net:
The AP's site on Bilal Hussein: http://www.ap.org/bilalhussein/
The AP's site on the Santoro slaying: http://www.ap.org/santoro/



Please feel free to use any of the information we have provided for stories, editorials or columns. If you would like to pursue the story further contact our director of media relations, Paul Colford at 212.621.1720 or pcolford@ap.org.
Salt Lake Tribune national security reporter Matthew D. LaPlante, center left, and Iraqi photojournalist Bilal Hussein, center right, converse with other journalists outside the Ramadi Government Center in Iraq in September, 2005. (AP Photo/The Salt Lake Tribune, Rick Egan)

>> AP Stories
04/09/2008 Detained AP photographer granted amnesty by Iraqi panel after 2 years in US custody
03/29/2008 Advocacy group raises concerns over threats to press freedoms in the United States
03/18/2008 AP president says US public, media should press presidential candidates on open government
02/12/2008 Report: Iraq, China dangerous for journalists; Russia, Iran increase efforts to muzzle press
02/04/2008 Media watchdog says Middle East governments have tightened control over media
12/09/2007 Hearing held for detained AP photographer in Iraq
12/07/2007 Press freedom group: AP photographer 'finally getting chance' to face US military accusations
12/06/2007 US detainees sent to Iraqi courts for trial face legal system mired in war's chaos
12/05/2007 127 journalists jailed by 24 countries, including 2 by US, advocates say
12/05/2007 Evidence found no al-Qaida link but German man was held for 4 years
11/29/2007 US military says evidence against AP photographer to be presented to Iraqi judiciary on Dec. 9
11/24/2007 AP president and CEO says US plan to seek criminal case against Iraqi photographer is unjust
11/22/2007 US military should apply 'due process' in AP photographer's case
11/21/2007 AP investigation finds no basis for long detention of photographer in Iraq
11/21/2007 Profile: Bilal Hussein's career nearly ended soon after it began
11/20/2007 U.S. Plans Case Against AP Photographer (video)
11/20/2007 US military to seek criminal case against AP photographer detained in Iraq
11/20/2007 Iraqi journalists, advocates warn photographer's case threatens media freedom
11/19/2007 U.S. military to seek criminal case against AP photographer detained in Iraq
2006-2007 Previous Stories
   
>> References and Resources
04/09/2008   Committee to Protect Journalists Statement: CPJ welcomes dismissal of case against AP photographer in Iraq; urges his release
03/31/2008 Read IAPA General Assembly resolution citing Bilal Hussein
03/19/2008 Photo District News: AP CEO: Charges Still Unknown In Bilal Hussein Case
03/10/2008 Photo District News: Three months of silence in Bilal Hussein case
12/17/2007 Case Lays Bare the Media’s Reliance on Iraqi Journalists: New York Times
11/29/2007 Tom Curley's letter to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki
11/24/2007 Op-Ed: Railroading A Journalist In Iraq - Washington Post Op-Ed (pdf)
11/21/2007 AP Investigation: Paul G. Gardephe's report – (pdf)
2006-2007 Archived Media Coverage
2006 AP Press Releases and Statements
   
>> AP Video
12/09/2007   AP Photographer Gets First Hearing
     

Click image to play video:

     
The public feedback e-mail address for The Associated Press is info@ap.org
 
Updated: 04/09/2008


 



Buy AP News | Buy AP Photos | Buy AP Video | Buy AP Audio | Buy AP Books | Careers | Shop AP Essentials