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AP Photog Still Held in Iraq as Many Demand Release

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

AP Photog Still Held in Iraq as Many Demand Release

Article excerpt

Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein begins his third year in U.S. military detention Saturday with the bulk of accusations against him dropped by Iraqi judges and press freedom groups renewing calls for his release.

But the Pentagon said Hussein will be held until it reviews the Iraqi amnesty ruling and also said it reserves the option to ignore the decision and keep Hussein in custody.

A four-judge Iraqi judicial panel on Monday halted terrorism-related proceedings against Hussein, saying his case falls under Iraq's 2-month-old amnesty law. The law -- which was supported by Washington -- allows the amnesty panel to effectively close a case without making findings of guilt or innocence.

Press freedom groups have hailed the decision and appealed for the immediate release of Hussein, 36, who has been in custody since his arrest by U.S. Marines on April 12, 2006, in Ramadi, about 70 miles west of Baghdad.

The amnesty ruling, however, may not include a separate allegation that Hussein had contacts with the kidnappers of an Italian citizen, Salvatore Santoro. In December 2004, Hussein photographed Santoro's body with two masked insurgents standing over it with guns.

Hussein was one of three journalists who were stopped at gunpoint by insurgents and taken to see the propped-up body. None of the journalists witnessed his death, said Santiago Lyon, AP's director of photography.

On Thursday, a spokesman for the U.S. detention command in Iraq, Lt. Cmdr. Kenneth Marshall, said Hussein will be held until military authorities can review the amnesty order.

Separately, U.S. authorities have said a U.N. Security Council mandate allows them to retain custody of a detainee they believe is a security risk even if an Iraqi judicial body has ordered that prisoner freed. The U.N. mandate is due to expire this year. …

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