U.S. to free AP photographer held in Iraq
The U.S. military says that on Wednesday it will release Bilal Hussein — the Associated Press photographer kept in military custody for two years after allegedly cooperating with insurgents — after an Iraqi court granted him amnesty.
AP has protested the case repeatedly, saying that Hussein did nothing improper and was simply doing his job. AP demanded that he either be sent to trial or be released.
Last week, however, an Iraqi judicial committee decided Hussein was covered under Iraq’s new Amnesty Law and ordered his release.
Maj. Gen. Douglas M. Stone, deputy commanding general for detainee operations, Multi-National Force–Iraq, signed the order approving his release.
“After the action by the Iraqi judicial committees, we reviewed the circumstances of Hussein’s detention and determined that he no longer presents an imperative threat to security,” Maj. Gen. Douglas M. Stone, Multi-National Force–Iraq’s deputy commander for detainee operations, said in a statement released late Monday. “I have therefore ordered that he be released from Coalition force custody.”
According to the military, on March 11 an Iraqi investigative judge had referred the case to trial.
The military alleged that Hussein possessed bomb-making materials, conspired with insurgents to photograph explosions directed at Iraqi and U.S. forces, and offered to forge an identification card for a wanted terrorist.
AP officials expressed relief at the decision to release Hussein.
“In time we will celebrate Bilal’s release. For now, we want him safe and united with his family,” AP president Tom Curley said in a news release. “While we may never see eye to eye with the U.S. military over this case, it is time for all of us to move on.”
Hussein, 36, was part of an AP photo team that won a Pulitzer Prize in 2005. AP ran its own investigation and “found no evidence of any activities on his part beyond that of a news photographer.”
Human rights and journalism groups had advocated for his release.
“We welcome the release of Bilal Hussein, which is long overdue. But there are many other Iraqis who have been held for months or years by U.S. forces without being charged or brought before a judge,” said Joe Stork, Middle East director for Human Rights Watch. “If the U.S. and Iraqi authorities have evidence against detainees they should charge them and give them a fair trial, rather than holding them indefinitely.”
Stone said the decision to release Hussein “was based on the specific information in his file, as well as improvements in the security situation,” according to the military.
“The decision to detain is based on an assessment of the threat the individual poses to the security of Iraq,” Stone said. “These determinations will continue to be made on a case-by-case basis and as a separate action from any determination of amnesty.”