Judge Releases American Charged for Taking Pics of Sierra Leone War-Crimes Tribunal

A judge released a former U.S. soldier who was charged with illegally taking pictures of Sierra Leone's U.N.-backed war crimes court, saying Tuesday the act was not prohibited.

Michael Chemidlin, a 58-year-old National Guardsman from Scotch Plains, N.J., was arrested in early May along with Sierra Leoneans Felix Rogers and Collins Kamara. The three were then briefly set free before being re-arrested a short time later.

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Chemidlin had maintained his innocence, and his family in New Jersey has called the arrest a misunderstanding.

"He was taking pictures of the courthouse and that's it," Chemidlin's son, Andrew, said Tuesday night. "I don't know who asked him to take the pictures. I'm not sure if he took them on his own."

Chemidlin said his father traveled to Sierra Leone in mid-April to visit friends he had met while serving in Iraq for 10 months in 2005, and had planned to stay in Sierra Leone until mid-May. He is now expected to return to the U.S. by the end of the week, Andrew Chemidlin said.

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Chemidlin's lawyer argued that the U.N.-backed war crimes court — considered international territory — was not covered by the law.

Judge Sam Margai said the war crimes court is not a prohibited area and therefore his own court lacked jurisdiction to try the case.