Iraqi Cameraman Released After Year-Long Detention

Apr 7, 2006  •  Post A Comment

In a bittersweet ending to a year-long saga, an Iraqi criminal court has freed Iraqi cameraman Abdul Ameer Younis Hussein, who was working in Mosul for CBS News when he was injured and then detained by the U.S. military for what it called “alleged insurgent activity.”

While Mr. Hussein, 25, was covering the aftermath of a car-bomb attack in Mosul on April 5, 2005, the U.S. military killed a man, described as a terrorist, who was next to Mr. Hussein. It was suggested that Mr. Hussein had instigated some of the violence.

The charges against Mr. Hussein were never made public during the year, during which CBS tried to resolve the problem (TelevisionWeek, April 3). But the charges were dropped for lack of evidence, said Linda Mason, CBS News senior VP for standards and special projects.

The U.S. military in Iraq in March instituted a policy designed to get reviewed within 36 hours the arrests of people identified as journalists and to allow their media employers to vouch for them.

This week Mr. Hussein, who was apparently interrogated unpleasantly more than once, was given back most of his belongings and a small amount of money — the equivalent of about 25 cents — with which to restart his waylaid life.

He was released Thursday from the infamous Abu Ghraib prison to American lawyer Scott Horton and CBS News producer Ben Plesser, Ms. Mason said.

The two Americans brought Mr. Hussein back to the CBS News bureau in Baghdad, where he was treated to his first private shower in 366 days. He also had some food, got some clothes and had a “tearful reunion” with his brother, she said.

After a year of little contact with Mr. Hussein and no disclosure of any evidence, CBS representatives viewed the videotape that was in Mr. Hussein’s camera when he was wounded.

The black-and-white video lasted about 17 seconds, Ms. Mason said. It showed some debris in the road. In the background a voice could be heard, faintly, shouting the rallying cry “Allahu akbar” (“God is good”).

“Ameer had been accused of chanting this, but he was holding the camera and the microphone was right near the camera, so if he were the one chanting this, you would have heard it,” Ms. Mason said.

“Our objective was to have him get a fair hearing,” said the news executive, who praised CBS CEO Leslie Moonves and CBS News and Sports President Sean McManus for allowing CBS News to pursue that end.

Baghdad bureau chief Larry Doyle told Mr. Hussein he can come back to work for CBS News.

It seems unlikely he will accept that offer.

But, Ms. Mason said, that while the Iraqis who do continue to work for the bureau know the dangers they face working for an American news organization, “I think they know that CBS will stand behind them.”

Michele Greppi