In a sudden turn of events, Bilal Hussein, the Associated Press photographer who has been detained in Iraq for nearly two years, has been ordered released by an Iraqi judicial committee. He has gained wide support from AP and journalism rights groups but his release would be a blow to right-wing bloggers who have long labeled him a terrorist supporter or sympathizer.
The four-judge panel said he should be released under a new amnesty law unless new charges are brought -- and the U.S. may indeed try to block his release.
He had been accused of being in league with terrorists who helped him capture dramatic photos, including one that was part of a Pulitzer Prize-winning package, as well as being connected to bomb-making equipment.
AP President Tom Curley demanded today that the U.S. military "finally do the right thing" and free Hussein, 36, "immediately." Hussein remains in custody at Camp Cropper, a U.S. detention facility near Baghdad's airport.
The AP has gone public with its concerns at some points, while working behind the scenes for his release at other times. The Pentagon has rebuffed all calls for a release.
Curley has said a review of Hussein's work and contacts found no evidence of any activities beyond the normal role of a news photographer.
"The U.S. military has said the Iraqi process should be allowed to work. It has, and the military must finally do the right thing by ending its detention of a journalist who did nothing more than his job. Bilal's imprisonment stands as a sad black mark on American values of justice and fairness," Curley added.
The detention of Hussein "has been a terrible injustice," said Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists. "It is alarming that he has been held this long without being charged and having had only a single day in court. We look forward to his speedy release."
CPJ research shows that Hussein's detention is not an isolated incident. Over the last four years, dozens of journalists--mostly Iraqis--have been detained by U.S. troops, according to CPJ research, some for weeks or months.
Greg Mitchell's new book is So Wrong for So Long: How the Press, the Pundits -- and the President -- Failed on Iraq. It includes a foreword by Joe Galloway and a preface by Bruce Springsteen, and has been hailed by our own Arianna, Glenn Greenwald, Bill Moyers and others. He is editor of Editor & Publisher.