June 1, 2006

Reuters journalist freed in Iraq after 12 days

By Alastair Macdonald

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - An Iraqi journalist working for Reuters
was released from U.S. military custody at Abu Ghraib prison in
Baghdad on Thursday after 12 days in detention.

Ali al-Mashhadani, 37, was arrested by U.S. Marines in his
home town of Ramadi on May 20 when he went to a U.S. base to
retrieve Reuters telephones taken from him earlier that week.

He spent five months in U.S. custody last year before being
released without charge in January.

Though again no specific allegation or charge was leveled
against him, U.S. officials said last week he was held as a
security threat. Marines interrogated him intensively about his
work as a journalist in the restive Sunni province of Anbar.

The Marines did not contact Reuters at any stage and
neither his employer, his family or lawyer had any access to

Senior U.S. commanders in Baghdad were, however, in contact
with Reuters and once he was transferred to their direct
control two days ago, Mashhadani was released under a
fast-track procedure for reviewing the detention of

That system was put in place by the military after it held
Mashhadani and two other Reuters journalists last year.

Reuters' Managing Editor David Schlesinger said the
London-based news agency welcomed the cooperation of military
officials in Baghdad but was concerned at the journalist's
initial arrest and lengthy interrogation in Ramadi:

"We are hoping for an explanation from the Marines of why
our journalist was again subjected to this treatment for over a
week when his integrity and professionalism had already been
amply demonstrated to them during his previous internment."

Under U.S. rules, local commanders can hold people for 14
days before releasing them or sending them to Abu Ghraib.


"We appreciate the critical role objective journalists play
in covering events in Iraq and recognize that the execution of
their responsibilities may put them at various locations on the
battlefield. We clearly do not want to generate the perception
that we are discouraging their presence," said Lieutenant
Colonel Keir-Kevin Curry, spokesman for detainee operations.

"In cases where the individual was performing a legitimate
function and not determined to be an imperative security threat
an expedited release would be appropriate."

As many as seven journalists for international media groups
were held by the U.S. military in Iraq at one stage last year.
One such journalist, from Ramadi, is currently being held.

Mashhadani, who reports and provides video and pictures, is
one of a small number of journalists providing news from Anbar
province, where U.S. Marines and Sunni Arab insurgents,
including al Qaeda militants, are locked in a fierce conflict.

Killings of journalists by all sides in Iraq have made it
the deadliest war for the profession and reporters in Anbar,
like Mashhadani, work under permanent threat from militant
groups hostile to the international media.

Among Mashhadani's recent stories was reporting from the
town of Haditha in March. Following Time magazine's revelation
of accusations that U.S. Marines shot dead 24 civilians there
in November, he filmed fresh interviews with local officials
and residents that were widely used by international media.

A U.S. military investigation is nearing a conclusion and
U.S. officials say charges, including murder, may result.