Thursday, April 10, 2008

Free Bilal

Reporters Without Borders welcomes this week’s decision by an Iraqi appeal court panel of judges to dismiss the charges brought by the US defence department against Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein on the grounds that they come under a general amnesty law adopted by the Iraqi parliament at the start of the year. Hussein, an Iraqi citizen, has been held by the US military since April 2006.
“This Iraqi court decision could put an end to the nightmare that Bilal Hussein has been living for the past two years,” Reporters Without Borders said. “We urge the US authorities to release him without delay and to not persist in bringing new charges in order to prolong his detention.”
The four judges on the commission issued their decision to dismiss the terrorism charges against Hussein on 7 April. It has the effect of terminating the judicial proceedings which the US military brought against him before the Iraqi courts in November 2007, 19 months after his arrest. A Baghdad court had agreed on 6 March that Hussein could be tried on the charges.
The US defence department has always said very little about the evidence it has against Hussein. The official charges against him have never been revealed. The Iraqi courts examined the charges behind closed doors and ordered lawyers not to talk publicly about the case.
Hussein, 36, was arrested by US soldiers in his home town of Ramadi (110 km west of Baghdad) on 12 April 2006 and has thereafter been held at Camp Cropper, near Baghdad airport. Variously alleged to have conspired with insurgents, to have been in possession of material to make a bomb and to have supplied false identity papers to fugitive terrorists, Hussein has always insisted on his innocence.

The above is Reporters Without Borders' "Relief at Iraqi judicial panel’s decision opening way for release AP photographer Bilal Hussein." Bilal Hussein has been imprisoned since April 12, 2006. Last December, the US military announced that he would finally get a trial. At that time AP's Paul Colford (Director of Media Relations) released a statement noting that his attorneys "were not given a copy of the materials" presented to the Iraqi court listing the charges or 'evidence' against Bilal, that, in fact, there was "still no formal chargaes against Bilal" and that

the judge had "ordered that the proceedings" to be shrouded in secrecy. Two days away from 24 months, he is still imprisoned despite the fact that the Iraqi courts have found him to be innocent of all charges.

Free Bilal. In Congress yesterday, during the House Foreign Affairs Committee's afternoon meeting, US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker was asked about the proposed Status of Force Agreement and whether the White House would push for it even if the Iraqi Parliament did not approve it? If Nouri al-Maliki, puppet of the occupation, attempted to circumvent the country's constiution, would the White House still push for it? Time ran out before Crocker was forced to give an answer but the implication was that the issue of legitimacy would be in question if the Iraqi government set up by the US had their wishes disregarded. By the same token, when the Iraqi court system the US set up finds Bilal innocent and the US disregards the verdict, what does that say? The White House was full of talk about "justice" on other decisions by the Iraqi courts. Are they going to circumvent the verdict?

If they do that, they are sending a message to the world that the Iraqi court system is illegitamite and that the US occupiers can and will overrule justice. Robert H. Reid (AP) reports:

A decision by a four-judge panel said Hussein's case falls under a new amnesty law. It ordered Iraqi courts to "cease legal proceedings" and ruled that Hussein should be "immediately" released unless other accusations are pending.
The ruling is dated Monday but AP's lawyers were not able to thoroughly review it until Wednesday. It was unclear, however, whether Hussein would still face further obstacles to release.
U.S. military authorities have said a U.N. Security Council mandate allows them to retain custody of a detainee they believe is a security risk even if an Iraqi judicial body has ordered that prisoner freed. The U.N. mandate is due to expire at the end of this year.
Also, the amnesty committee's ruling on Hussein may not cover a separate allegation that has been raised in connection with the case.
AP President Tom Curley hailed the committee's decision and demanded that the U.S. military "finally do the right thing" and free Hussein.
In response to a question from the AP, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said it "will be up to officials in Iraq" on whether to release Hussein. The decision, he said, will be "based upon their assessment as to whether he remains a threat."
They found hims innocent of the charges, that was the Iraqi legal system's "assessment" so it's time for the US military to finally release Bilal and to do so before another a day passes.
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