BAGHDAD – The U.S. military will continue to hold Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein until it has reviewed an Iraqi order granting him amnesty from terror-related allegations, a U.S. spokesman said Thursday.
An Iraqi judicial committee on Monday dismissed terrorism-related allegations against Hussein and ordered him released after nearly two years in U.S. custody.
Lt. Cmdr. Kenneth Marshall, a spokesman for the detention command, said that the military could not comment in detail because it had not received a complete report from Iraqi authorities.
In an e-mail response to an AP request for comment, Marshall said "all charges are now reviewed to determine the applicability" of the law on individual detainees in American custody. The amnesty law, passed in February, was strongly encouraged by Washington as a trust-building measure among Iraq's rival groups.
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.
Under Iraq's amnesty law, a grant of amnesty effectively closes a case and does not assume guilt of the accused.
On Wednesday, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said the military will make its decisions on Hussein's case "based upon their assessment as to whether he remains a threat."
The amnesty committee's ruling on Hussein, 36, was limited to allegations covered by the anti-terrorism law and 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.
Hussein has been held by the U.S. military since he was detained on April 12, 2006, in Ramadi, about 70 miles west of Baghdad. Throughout his incarceration, he has maintained he is innocent and was only doing the work of a professional news photographer in a war zone.
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. After the amnesty committee decision, AP President Tom Curley renewed the news organization's call for the military to "do the right thing by ending its detention of a journalist who did nothing more than his job."
On Thursday, Reporters Without Borders said the amnesty "could put an end to the nightmare that Bilal Hussein has been living for the past two years."
"We urge the US authorities to release him without delay and to not persist in bringing new charges in order to prolong his detention," the Paris-based group said in a statement.
New York-based Human Rights Watch also appealed for Hussein's release.
"The U.S. military held Bilal Hussein for nearly two years without charging, then transferred him to the Iraqi justice system, which apparently sees no reason to detain him," Joe Stork, the group's Middle East director, said in a statement Thursday. "It's time to set him free."