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US military agrees to release AP photographer jailed in Iraq

US military agrees to release AP photographer jailed in Iraq
Freedom beckons: Bilal Hussein was a shopkeeper when he was hired by the Associated Press to help with logistical support about a year after the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq. He was trained in photography and began work as a photographer in September 2004 in his hometown of Fallujah, about 40 miles west of Baghdad.

The United States military said Monday that it would release Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein who has been jailed in Iraq without trial for two years on accusations of terrorism and kidnapping.

The US military initially said it had more than enough evidence to hold him under a UN mandate, but on Monday, Maj Gen Douglas Stone, deputy commanding general for detainee operations, signed the order for Hussein's release, CNN reported.

"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," said Stone. "I have therefore ordered that he be released from coalition force custody."

An Iraqi judicial panel dismissed the last remaining criminal allegation against Hussein on Sunday and ordered him released from custody. The committee of three judges and a prosecutor of the Federal Appeals Court granted amnesty to Hussein, 36, saying there should be no further action on allegations that he may have had improper contacts with insurgents who killed Italian citizen Salvatore Santoro.

In December 2004, Hussein and two other journalists were stopped by armed men and taken at gunpoint to photograph the corpse, propped up with armed insurgents standing over it.

The panel ordered a "halt to all legal proceedings" and said Hussein should be "released immediately" unless he is wanted in connection with something else. Last week, the panel dismissed accusations under Iraq's anti-terrorism law. Those accusations, part of a file given to an Iraqi investigative judge by the US military, alleged Hussein had cooperated with terrorists and had possessed bomb-making materials in his house.

Both judicial decisions, the Associated Press (AP) reported, determined that Hussein's cases fell under an amnesty law enacted in February. Under the law, meant as a step toward national reconciliation, a grant of amnesty effectively closes a case and does not assume or determine guilt or innocence of the accused, unless he had been convicted. Hussein was never brought to trial.

Hussein was arrested by US Marines on April 12, 2006, at the apartment where he was staying in the western city of Ramadi and transferred to the US detention facility at Camp Cropper, near Baghdad's airport. He has been allowed visits from defence lawyers, family representatives and AP representatives.

In December 2007, the US military referred the case to an investigating judge, who reviewed the evidence early this year and submitted his findings to the Central Criminal Court of Iraq to determine whether the case should go to trial. The court in turn referred the case to the amnesty panel.

On the Santoro case, Hussein and the other two journalists recounted the incident to AP after they were released by the armed men outside of Ramadi. None of the journalists had witnessed the Italian citizen's death, said Santiago Lyon, AP's director of photography. AP published an account at the time and also spoke to an Italian diplomat in Baghdad.

AP said a review of Hussein's work and contacts 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.

Date posted: April 15, 2008 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 706