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The Guardian/UK

US Forces Release Iraqi Photographer After Two Years Without Charge

Ian Black

US forces yesterday released an Iraqi photographer who had been held without charge for two years on suspicion of aiding insurgents in a case that highlighted the dangers facing the media in a war zone.0417 04 1

Bilal Hussein, 36, who works for the Associated Press news agency, had been in US custody since being detained in Ramadi in April 2006. He was freed under an amnesty by the Iraqi government.

Hussein, smiling and apparently healthy, was handed over at a checkpoint in Baghdad and reunited with relatives.

"I have spent two years in prison though I was innocent," he said. "I thank everybody." The photographer, who shared a Pulitzer prize, was freed after the US decided he was no longer a threat. It had described him as a "terrorist media operative" who was alleged to have possessed bomb-making materials and conspired with Sunni insurgents to photograph explosions directed at security forces.

Reporters Without Borders urged the US to free the Sudanese Sami Al-Haj, an Al-Jazeera cameraman held in Guantánamo Bay since 2002, and the Afghan journalist Jawed Ahmad, held in Afghanistan.

In 2006 US marines entered Hussein's house to establish an observation post and allegedly found bomb-making materials, insurgent propaganda and a surveillance photograph of a US military installation.

Many of the 23,000 detainees in US military custody in Iraq have not been charged but are deemed a security risk. Hussein is one of several Iraqi journalists who have been held without facing trial. Reuters journalists have also been detained for months and released without charges.

AP reported that Hussein was alleged to have 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. He maintained he was one of three journalists who were stopped at gunpoint by insurgents and taken to see the body.

© 2008 The Guardian

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