Media News

U.S. says must review Iraqi AP photographer's status

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - The U.S. military will not free a Pulitzer Prize-winning Associated Press photographer held since 2006 unless its own review board approves, a spokesman said on Thursday, after an Iraqi panel ordered his release.

The U.S. military has accused Bilal Hussein, an Iraqi, of working with insurgents in Iraq and held him without charge. He was seized two years ago in Ramadi, capital of Anbar province, and is being held in Baghdad.

An Iraqi judicial committee ordered Hussein’s release and dismissed terrorism-related accusations against him, the AP said on Wednesday. The news agency said a four-judge panel ruled Hussein’s case fell under a two-month-old amnesty law.

But Lieutenant Commander Kenneth Marshall, spokesman for U.S. military detention facilities in Iraq, said the law did not apply to people in U.S. military custody.

“He is still in U.S. custody. I can confirm that,” Marshall told Reuters.

AP has repeatedly called for the release of Hussein, 36, who was part of its photo team that won a Pulitzer prize in 2005.

The news agency had said it was unclear if Hussein would face further obstacles to his release, saying the Iraqi panel may still be reviewing another allegation against him.

“If the amnesty is granted (by the Iraqi panel) on both counts, he remains in detainee status,” Marshall said. “He would then most likely be reviewed as a detainee and he would be released if not seen to be an imperative threat to the security of Iraq.”

In November, U.S. military spokesman Major-General Kevin Bergner said Hussein’s case had been reviewed several times by a board that periodically reviews the files of detainees.

Hussein was still deemed a “security threat”, he had said at the time. Those reviews generally take place every six months.

Many of the 23,000 detainees in U.S. military custody have not been charged but remain in jail because they are deemed a security risk.

The AP said the Iraqi panel’s decision covered various allegations by the U.S. military, including claims Hussein had bomb-making material, conspired with insurgents to take photographs synchronized with an explosion and offered to secure a forged ID for a militant evading capture by the military.

The committee might still be reviewing a separate allegation that Hussein had contacts with the kidnappers of an Italian citizen, it added.

Hussein is just one of several Iraqi journalists who have been held by the U.S. military without being charged. Reuters journalists have also been detained by the U.S. military for months and later released without charges.

The AP said Hussein was being held at Camp Cropper, a U.S. detention facility near Baghdad’s airport.

Writing by Dean Yates; Editing by Caroline Drees