By: Robert H. Reid, The Associated Press
The Associated Press photographer who was freed by the U.S. military in Iraq today says he wants to “thank everybody.”
Bilal Hussein was handed over to his AP colleagues at a Baghdad checkpoint. He expressed thanks to “all the people working” in the AP, and said he had spent two years in prison even though he was innocent.
The photographer was embraced by sobbing family members, including his brother and mother, and spoke to other well-wishers on a mobile phone as he was showered with flowers and sweets. He later was honored with a traditional feast.
AP President Tom Curley calls the release “a great relief” and says Hussein will be “spending some quiet time with his family and resting up.”
The U.S. military had accused Hussein of links to insurgents, but did not file specific charges. Hussein and the AP have denied any improper contacts.nesday after holding him for more than two years without filing formal charges.
Hussein, 36, was taken to the site aboard a prisoner bus and left U.S. custody wearing a traditional Iraqi robe. He was smiling and appeared in good health.
“I want to thank all the people working in AP … I have spent two years in prison even though I was innocent. I thank everybody,” Hussein said after being freed.
Curley said Hussein “is safely back with AP and his family, and it is a great relief to us.”
“Our heartfelt thanks to all of you who supported us during this difficult and challenging period,” Curley said. “Bilal will now be spending some quiet time with his family and resting up.”
The U.S. military had accused Hussein of links to insurgents, but did not file specific charges. In December, military authorities brought Hussein’s case into the Iraqi court system for possible trial.
But an Iraqi judicial panel this month dismissed all proceedings against Hussein and ordered his release. A U.S. military statement on Monday said Hussein is no longer considered a threat.
Hussein and the AP denied any improper contacts, saying Hussein was doing the normal work of a photographer in a war zone. He was detained by U.S. Marines on April 12, 2006 in Ramadi, about 70 miles west of Baghdad.
Hussein was a member of the AP team that won a Pulitzer Prize for photography in 2005, and his detention drew protests from rights groups and press freedom advocates.
The photographer was embraced by family members, including his brother and mother, and received flowers. Hussein called other well-wishers by phone as relatives prepared a feast in his honor.