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IRAQ: AP photographer set to go free under amnesty law

April 14, 2008 |  2:42 pm

Photog_jzbzatnc The Associated Press photographer detained by the U.S. military more than two years ago on suspicion of involvement in insurgent activities is finally set to go free after Iraqi judicial officials ordered him released under terms of a new amnesty law.

Bilal Hussein's fate had been uncertain in recent days as the U.S. military suggested that it was not convinced by the Iraqi committee's ruling. Read more about the history and details of this mysterious case here.

The Iraqi panel had said that an amnesty law passed by the Parliament in February applied to Hussein's case, which had been shrouded in secrecy from the moment he was picked up by U.S. Marines in western Al Anbar province on April 12, 2006.

Late Monday, the U.S. military released a statement with a slightly grudging tone acknowledging that American officials had reviewed the Iraqi panel's decision and accepted its decision that the amnesty law covered Hussein. "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, the deputy commander of detainee operations in Iraq, said in the statement.

The statement left little doubt of the military's frustration over the case, which for two years has been cited by human rights lawyers and media groups as an example of the military's abuse of power in Iraq.  "A finding that amnesty applies is not an acquittal," the statement from Stone said.

Hussein and the AP always maintained his innocence and say he was wrongfully accused of collaborating with insurgents based on his photographic work, which helped the news organization win a Pulitzer Prize in 2005. The AP said an investigation it conducted found no evidence of wrongdoing by Hussein.

The military never made public its evidence against Hussein. Its accusations were based in part on a photograph he took of a slain Italian citizen in 2004. Hussein said he had been forced at gunpoint to take the photograph after gunmen stopped his vehicle and took him to see the murder victim.

The military also said Hussein's photographs indicated he was working with insurgents during their attacks on U.S. and Iraqi forces.

The military said it plans to free Hussein on Wednesday from Camp Cropper, the U.S. detention facility in Baghdad where he has been held. AP President Tom Curley said celebrations would come after Hussein was back with his family. He sounded a conciliatory note to the military. "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," he said.

It was a rare piece of good news for the media in Iraq, where the Committee to Protect Journalists says 123 journalists were killed last year.  CPJ also says 127 journalists were behind bars around the world last year and that in 17% of the cases, the charges against them had not been made public. When Hussein goes free, that number should drop to 126.

The news of Hussein's upcoming freedom broke on the same day that a British freelance journalist, Richard Butler, was rescued more than two months after being kidnapped in the southern city of Basra. Butler appeared healthy and gave a dramatic account of his release, which came about as Iraqi security forces raided the home where he was being held and stumbled upon the hooded hostage.

—Tina Susman in Baghdad


Photo: Jim MacMillan / Associated Press

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