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U.S. military frees Iraqi journalist

  • Story Highlights
  • Associated Press photographer released after two years in U.S. custody
  • U.S. military held Bilal Hussein on allegations of ties to terrorists
  • U.S. said photographer's quick arrival at attack scenes raised suspicions
  • Journalists' group: U.S. holds two other war-zone journalists without charges
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- An Iraqi photographer for The Associated Press has been freed after two years in U.S. military custody, an American military official said Wednesday.

Bilal Hussein, arrested two years ago on allegations of terrorist ties, was handed over to representatives of the news agency Wednesday, the official said.

An Iraqi judicial committee dropped legal proceedings against Hussein last week, saying he should be freed unless other charges were pending.

The U.S. military initially said it had more than enough evidence to hold him under a U.N. mandate. However, Maj. Gen. Douglas Stone, deputy commanding general for detainee operations, signed an order Monday for Hussein's release.

After the Iraqi action, Stone said that "we reviewed the circumstances of Hussein's detention and determined that he no longer presents an imperative threat to security. I have therefore ordered that he be released from [U.S.-led] coalition force custody."

Hussein, who has denied any connections to terrorists, supplied one of 20 photos that won the AP a Pulitzer Prize in 2005 for breaking news photography.

His quick arrival on the scene after terrorist attacks in Iraq aroused the suspicion of the American military, which said it suspected he may have had advance knowledge.

"In time, we will celebrate Bilal's release," AP President Tom Curley said. "For now, we want him safe and united with his family. While we may never see eye to eye with the U.S. military over this case, it is time for all of us to move on."

AP corporate communications said that the photographer "needs time to spend with his family, to rest and to catch up with the rest of the world. We will have no further comment at this time, but will let you know when we do."

The Iraqi judicial panel said that Hussein should be freed under the country's new amnesty law. The aim of the law is national reconciliation, not placing blame.

Among the U.S. military's allegations against Hussein were that bomb parts and insurgent propaganda had been found in his house after the military asked to use it as an observation point during an operation.

"They characterize him as a terrorist media operative who infiltrated the AP," Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said in November.

The AP said it examined his work and found nothing beyond the normal role of a photojournalist.

But the U.S. military said that it turned over evidence against Hussein to the Iraqi courts in December and that a judge found it was sufficient to try the photographer.

The military said the panel ordering Hussein's release never saw that evidence because it was not concerned with guilt or innocence.

The photographer's release drew praise from the Committee to Protect Journalists.

"We are thrilled that Bilal Hussein's troubling ordeal has finally come to an end and that he is now a free man," said Joel Simon, the group's executive director.

"He now joins a growing list of journalists detained in conflict zones by the U.S. military for prolonged periods and eventually released without any charges or crimes ever substantiated against them. This deplorable practice should be of concern to all journalists. It basically allows the U.S. military to remove journalists from the field, lock them up and never be compelled to say why."

The group said the U.S. military "continues to hold at least two other journalists without charge or due process."

They include Al-Jazeera cameraman Sami al-Haj, held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, after his arrest in Pakistan, and Jawed Ahmad, a journalist with Canada's CTV who is at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, according to the group. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

All About Bilal HusseinPhotojournalismU.S. Armed ForcesIraq

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