Alerts   |   Iraq

AP photographer is latest in long list of U.S. detainees

 

New York, December 7, 2007—Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein, held by the U.S. military without charge for nearly 20 months, is scheduled to face unspecified charges in an Iraqi court on Sunday. Hussein is among a number of journalists who have been held by the U.S. military in Iraq for prolonged periods.

 

Dozens of journalists—mostly Iraqis—have been detained by U.S. troops over the last three years, 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. Several of the detainees were photojournalists who initially drew the military’s attention because of what they had filmed or photographed.

“We’re relieved that Bilal Hussein is finally getting the chance to defend himself in a court of law,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “But the question remains why it has taken the U.S. military 20 months to bring charges in a case where they say the evidence is convincing. The fact that other journalists have been similarly detained under ominous accusations that were never substantiated raises our concern about this case.”

Hussein, an Iraqi citizen who worked as a freelance photographer for the AP in the volatile cities of Ramadi and Fallujah, helped the news agency earn a Pulitzer Prize for photography in 2005. He was taken by U.S. forces on April 12, 2006, in Ramadi, the capital of Iraq’s Anbar province, and held in a U.S. prison in Iraq for “imperative reasons of security” on accusations of collaboration with Iraqi insurgents.

Since Hussein’s detention, U.S. officials have made numerous, shifting allegations against the journalist. After his detention, for example, U.S. military officials accused Hussein of having prior knowledge of insurgent attacks on U.S. forces and filming those attacks. They have never substantiated the accusation. Another allegation was that Hussein was involved in the Iraqi insurgent kidnapping of two Arab journalists in Ramadi—a claim AP investigated and discredited. 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.

The AP’s own investigation has found these and other accusations—such as providing false identification to insurgents and having bomb-making materials in his home—to have no substance and believes Hussein is being held because of his journalistic work in Anbar province.

Late last month, the U.S. military decided to refer Hussein’s case to the Iraqi justice system for possible prosecution because of his alleged links to Iraqi insurgents. U.S. officials have not specified what the charges might be, but have claimed they have “new evidence” implicating the journalist.

Here is a look at the eight cases of prolonged journalist detentions by U.S. troops in Iraq since March 2003:

 

1.) Majed Hameed, Reuters, Al-Arabiya

Detained: September 15, 2005

Released: January 2006

Period of Detention: Four months

Charges Substantiated: None

Hameed, a correspondent working for Reuters and the Dubai-based broadcaster Al-Arabiya, was arrested along with several other men at a gathering following a relative’s funeral in Anbar province. Both Reuters and Al-Arabiya said his arrest appeared connected to footage found on his camera by U.S. troops. U.S. officials never specified the basis for his detention. In an in-depth investigation about the case of Bilal Hussein, the AP’s attorney referred to Hameed’s case, suggesting that U.S. officials were concerned about Hameed’s alleged contacts with insurgents. He was freed without charge in January 2006 as part of a larger prisoner release that included around 500 Iraqi detainees.

2.) Ali Mashhadani, Reuters

Detained: August 8, 2005

Released: January 2006

Period of Detention: Nearly five months

Charges Substantiated: None
Mashhadani, a freelance photographer and cameraman for Reuters was detained by U.S. forces on August 8, 2005. Mashhadani was taken from Ramadi during a general sweep of the neighborhood by U.S. Marines who became suspicious after seeing photos stored in his cameras. After his detention, a U.S.-Iraqi Combined Review and Release Board (CRRB) determined that he posed a “threat,” and ordered his continued detention. Officials gave no evidence to justify his detention. He was freed without charge in January 2006 as part of a larger prisoner release that included around 500 Iraqi detainees.

3.) Fares Nawaf al-Issaywi, Agence France-Presse

Detained: May 1, 2005

Released: Late May 2005

Period of Detention: Between two weeks and one month

Charges Substantiated: None

Al-Issaywi, a photographer for Agence France-Presse, was detained by Iraqi forces while photographing in Fallujah, and then transferred to the custody of U.S. troops. No details were provided regarding the basis for his detention. He was released between two weeks and one month later, according to AFP.

4.) Samir Mohammed Noor, Reuters

Detained: May 2005

Released: January 2006

Period of Detention: Nearly eight months

Charges Substantiated: None

Noor, an Iraqi television cameraman working for Reuters, was arrested by Iraqi troops at his home in the northern town of Tal Afar and then transferred to U.S. custody. A U.S. military spokesman initially told Reuters that Noor was “an imperative threat to the coalition forces and the security of Iraq,” but U.S. officials did not disclose any evidence supporting the detention. Initially held at Abu Ghraib prison, Noor was later transferred to Camp Bucca. He was freed without charge in January 2006, and a U.S. spokesman told news organizations at the time that the military had no comment on the case.

5.) Cyrus Kar, freelance

Detained: May 17, 2005

Released: July 10, 2005

Period of Detention: Two months

Charges Substantiated: None

Kar, a U.S. documentary filmmaker working on a film about the ancient Persian king Cyrus the Great, was detained by U.S. troops on May 17, 2005, at a checkpoint in Baghdad and held as "an imperative security threat." He was taken when troops became suspicious of parts often used in improvised explosive devices were found in the trunk of his taxi driver’s car. The driver said the parts belonged to him and were for a relative, the Los Angeles Times reported. Although officials found no evidence of wrongdoing—Kar passed a polygraph test and allowed the FBI to search his apartment in the U.S.—he was held in different prisons for several weeks, during which he was subjected to harsh treatment, the Times reported. Kar said he was hooded and subjected to threats and taunts, and that at one point a soldier slammed his head against a wall. A military court cleared Kar of any offense, and he was released on July 10. "This case highlights the effectiveness of our detainee review process," U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Don Alston said after Kar was released.

6.) Abdul Ameer Younis Hussein, CBS News

Detained: April 5, 2005

Released: April 7, 2006

Period of Detention: One year

Charges Substantiated: None

Hussein, a cameraman for CBS News, was detained after being wounded by U.S. forces’ fire as he filmed clashes in Mosul in northern Iraq on April 5, 2005. CBS News reported at the time that the U.S. military said footage in his camera led them to suspect Hussein had prior knowledge of attacks on coalition forces. For months, U.S. military officials made unspecific accusations that Hussein was "engaged in anti-coalition activity" and was "recruiting and inciting Iraqi nationals to violence against coalition forces and participating in attacks against coalition forces." Scott Horton, an American lawyer representing Hussein in Baghdad, said the journalist was accused of having prior knowledge of the car bombing that sparked the clashes. Horton said Hussein was also accused of celebrating the attacks with Iraqis. The lawyer said the allegations were never substantiated. Upon viewing the cameraman’s video, Horton said, he saw no evidence whatsoever that the journalist was inciting Iraqis or celebrating the attack; instead, the tape showed people expressing shock after the bombing. Nearly a year after his detention Hussein’s case was transferred to an Iraqi court, which cited a lack of evidence in acquitting and freeing him.


7.) Ammar Daham Naef Khalaf, Agence France-Presse

Detained: April 2005

Released: October 2006

Period of Detention: Six months

Charges Substantiated: None

Khalaf, a reporter for Agence France-Presse, was detained by U.S. troops in Ramadi. No details were provided regarding the basis for his detention. He was released sometime around October 2006, according to AFP.

8.) Saleh Hassan, Al-Jazeera

Detained: November 2003

Released: January 2004

Period of Detention: Six weeks

Charges Substantiated: None

Hassan, a cameraman for Al-Jazeera, was detained by U.S. forces in November 2003 after arriving at the scene of a roadside bombing of a U.S. convoy near the town of Baqouba, 25 miles (40 kilometers) north of Baghdad. The U.S.-based magazine The Nation reported in March 2004 that U.S. troops interrogated Hassan and accused him of knowing about the attack before it happened. They then placed a hood over his head and transferred him to Abu Ghraib Prison, where, according to The Nation, soldiers “stripped him naked” and forced him to “stand hooded, bound, and naked for eleven hours.” He was released six weeks later, after an Iraqi Governing Council court found no evidence against him.


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