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Coalition Forces to Release Detained AP Photographer

American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 15, 2008 – Coalition military officials in Baghdad have informed attorneys for Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein Zaidon that they intend to release Hussein from custody tomorrow.

After confirming that the main charges for which Hussein was scheduled to be tried had been determined by Iraqi judicial committees to be covered by Iraq’s new amnesty law, Army Maj. Gen. Douglas M. Stone, Multinational Force Iraq’s deputy commanding general for detainee operations, signed the order approving his release. Hussein has been in coalition custody since April 2006.

“After the action by the Iraqi judicial committees, we reviewed the circumstances of Hussein’s detention and determined that he no longer presents an imperative threat to security,” Stone said. “I have therefore ordered that he be released from coalition force custody.”

On Nov. 14, Multinational Force Iraq officials notified the Associated Press under a previous arrangement that command intended to provide evidence against Hussein to the Central Criminal Court of Iraq. On Dec. 9, the Iraqi judge assigned to investigate the case conducted an investigative hearing, and on March 11, he referred the case to trial.

Officials said Hussein was alleged to have possessed bomb-making materials, conspired with insurgents to photograph explosions directed at Iraqi and coalition forces, and offered to forge an identification card for a wanted terrorist who was being pursued by coalition forces. The allegations and evidence provided by Multinational Force Iraq supported the main charge against Hussein, that of terrorism under Iraq’s anti-terrorism law. Under this law, as under the terrorism laws of many countries, journalistic motives are not a legal defense, officials said.

In the March 11 ruling, the Iraqi investigative judge determined that the evidence in the Iraqi criminal case against Hussein supported two separate charges, which he forwarded for trial: the terrorism charge, as well as another charge of participating in kidnapping.

After the February passage of the Iraqi amnesty law, the charges against Hussein were reviewed to determine its applicability. On April 7, the judicial committee appointed to implement the amnesty law dismissed the main charge of terrorism against Hussein.

Under the amnesty law, acts of terrorism are subject to amnesty if they do not result in killing or permanent disability. Following the April 7 order, Hussein remained in coalition custody under a second Iraqi charge alleging that Hussein had participated in a kidnapping.

His detention in coalition custody continued under authorities granted under international law. On April 13, a separate Iraqi judicial committee concluded that the second charge also should be dismissed.

The amnesty law applies only to criminal cases before Iraqi courts and does not apply to people detained in coalition custody as security detainees in accordance with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1790.

The amnesty panel’s determinations are based only on the charges and not the evidence in each case, officials said. A finding that amnesty applies is not an acquittal, but a determination that the alleged misconduct, whether proved or not, will be excused by the Iraqi government to serve the purposes of the amnesty law, officials explained.

Stone said the Multinational Force Iraq determination in Hussein’s case was based on specific information in his file, as well as improvements in the security situation that have lessened the threat posed by his release.

“The decision to detain is based on an assessment of the threat the individual poses to the security of Iraq,” the general said. “These determinations will continue to be made on a case-by-case basis and as a separate action from any determination of amnesty.”

(From a Multinational Force Iraq news release.)

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