The disturbing case of Abdul Amir Younes Hussein, the CBS cameraman who has been detained by U.S. forces in Iraq for over five months without a shred of evidence being publicly presented against him, has taken yet another bizarre turn.
As reported by the New York Times and Wall Street Journal last week, Hussein is a 25-year-old freelancer who has found himself trapped in a nightmare of secrecy, suspicion, and legal uncertainty since being wounded by U.S. forces while filming the aftermath of a car bombing in Mosul on April 5th.
At first the military expressed regret for Hussein's minor injuries. But three days later they arrested him, claiming he had been "engaged in anti-coalition activity." Thus began his Kafka-esque legal odyssey, which has seen the reportedly timid reporter shuttled from prison to prison (including Abu Ghraib), while the military has changed its story multiple times, refused to release any evidence against him, refused to let Hussein be visited by friends or relatives, and rebuffed the efforts of CBS to have his case adjudicated in a conclusive manner.
"We're not insisting that Abdul Amir is innocent," CBS President Andrew Heyward told me. "We're just asking for due process and some answers, which so far the military has refused to provide. What are the specific charges against him? What is the evidence against him? Why can't we see it? Instead, we've seen shifting explanations and seemingly arbitrary rulings."
The latest twist in the case came earlier this week. Back in July -- already three months after his arrest -- Hussein was scheduled to have his case heard by the Combined Review and Release Board, a panel made up of American military officials and Iraqi government officials. In preparation for the hearing, CBS News submitted evidence it had gathered supporting Hussein's innocence. But the hearing was abruptly cancelled and his case turned over to Iraqi criminal authorities. They in turn reviewed the case and, in late August, declined to prosecute him.
Once again we see that Iraqi authorities are sovereign only as long as they agree with the Americans actually in charge. This time they didn't agree, so instead of releasing him, the military kept him in jail claiming it had access to classified information the Iraqi authorities didn't. Another hearing with the CRRB was set for September 22. But on September 12, CBS News was informed that the hearing had already been held -- without Hussein, his lawyer, or anyone from CBS News in attendance. Then, on Tuesday, came word that the CRRB had decided to keep Hussein locked up -- with no review of his case for another six months.
It's an outrage. And not just for Abdul Hussein. Cases like his can't help but have a chilling effect on news coverage of Iraq. With Western reporters holed up away from the action, news organizations are relying on Iraqi personnel to get the story.
At such a crucial time in the war, we need the most accurate possible accounting of what is actually happening on the ground -- and anything that closes down that flow of information (like the prolonged detention of those trying to report from the front) needs to be fought tooth and nail.
The American people deserve the truth. About the war and about Abdul Amir Younes Hussein.
UPDATE: Commenters have rightly asked for an action step so readers can do something about this. Let's start by e-mailing our senators and members of congress, asking them to exercise their oversight by demanding some answers.