Sunday, May 24, 2009

A prisoner of American "freedom" in Iraq

JUST how independent is Iraq under US occupation? How are people enjoying the "freedom" which US and British forces supposedly fought to deliver, after the dark old days of Saddam Hussein?

Ibrahim Jassam and his family must be wondering what has changed since those dark days. Ibrahim, a cameraman and photographer for Reuters news agency, is being held by the U.S. without charges. He was taken in September. While we have been shown pictures on TV of British troops preparing to withdraw from Iraq, and Iraqi soldiers and police taking over responsibility for law and order in their own country, the US occupation has spread. An Iraqi court ordered Ibrahim Jassam's release, but the U.S. military rejected this, saying he is a 'high security threat.'

The story is told in the Los Angeles Times:

It was 1.30 in the morning when American and Iraqi soldiers, with dogs, came to the home of the Jassam family, in Mahmoudiya, south of Baghdad. They broke down the door, and rousing family members who were sleeping on the roof to escape the late-summer heat.

"Where is the journalist Ibrahim?" one of the Iraqi soldiers barked at the grandparents, children and grandchildren as they staggered blearily down the stairs. Ibrahim Jassam, a cameraman and photographer for the Reuters news agency, stepped forward, one of this brothers recalled. "Take me if you want me, but please leave my brothers." The soldiers rifled through the house, confiscating his computer hard drive and cameras. And then they led him away, handcuffed and blindfolded.

'That was Sept. 2. Jassam, 31, has been in U.S. custody ever since. His case is the latest of a dozen detentions the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists has documented since 2001. No formal accusations have been made against Jassam, and an Iraqi court ordered in November that he be released for lack of evidence. But the U.S. military continues to hold him, saying it has intelligence that he is "a high security threat," said Maj. Neal Fisher, spokesman for detainee affairs.

'The Obama administration harshly criticized Iran for its imprisonment of Roxana Saberi, the U.S.-Iranian journalist who was convicted of espionage and sentenced to eight years in prison before being freed two weeks ago. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton criticized Iran's treatment of Saberi as "non-transparent, unpredictable and arbitrary."

'Washington also has called upon North Korea to expedite the trial of two U.S. journalists being held on spying charges. Yet the U.S. has routinely used the arbitrary powers it assumed after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorism attacks to hold journalists without charge in Iraq, as well as Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Committee to Protect Journalists said.

'None of the detained journalists has been convicted of any charge, undermining the United States' reputation when it comes to criticizing other countries on issues of press freedom, committee executive director Joel Simon said. "The U.S. has a record of holding journalists for long periods of time without due process and without explanation. Its standing would be improved if it addressed this issue."

'Reuters has expressed disappointment over Jassam's detention and has said there is no evidence against him.
Sami Haj, a cameraman for the TV network Al Jazeera, was detained by Pakistani authorities as he tried to cross into Afghanistan in 2001 to cover the offensive against the Taliban. He was turned over to the U.S. military, which held him for six years at the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He was accused him of being a courier for militant Islamic organizations, but was never charged. He was released a year ago.

'In Iraq, Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein was held for two years without trial before being released in April 2008 on the orders of an Iraqi judge under the terms of an amnesty law. The U.S. military maintained that Hussein had links to insurgents, but the AP said the allegations were based on nothing more than the Pulitzer Prize-winning photographs of insurgents that he had taken on the streets of Ramadi, in western Iraq.

'Jassam is the only Iraqi journalist still in U.S. custody, the last to be detained under wartime rules that predated a U.S.-Iraqi security agreement signed in December. Under the new accord, U.S. forces must obtain a warrant before they can arrest an Iraqi citizen. Jassam was detained without a warrant "as the result of his activity with a known insurgent organization," Fisher said. No evidence against Jassam was presented at his court hearing in November, Fisher said, because the military intelligence against him had not yet been verified.

'Under the wartime rules in place at the time, he said, "there was no requirement to link the military intelligence with rule of law type of evidentiary procedures." After the court ordered Jassam's release, Fisher said, new evidence came to light that suggested he was a "high security threat.",0,5984536.story?track=rss

Ibrahim Jassam is being held at Camp Bocca, a tented US prison camp in the desert in southern Iraq. His brother, Walid, visited him recently there, and says he found Ibrahim close to the breaking point. "He used to be handsome, but now he's pale and he's tired," said Walid, who says his brother had no ties to insurgents. "Every now and then while we were talking, he would start crying. He was begging me: 'Please do something to get me out of here. I don't know what is the charge against me.'

"I told him we already tried everything."

It could be another year before Iraqi authorities are able to exercise legal powers to try and release Ibrahim Jassam from US custody. For now, Iraq continues experiencing freedom - for US forces to do what they like.



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