Bilal Hussein to be freed. Really!

I’m ecstatic to be proven wrong. Bilal Hussein, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Iraqi Associated Press photographer who was detained by U.S. forces in April 2006 will be set free tomorrow.

Last week, after a prolonged detention and a series of opaque judicial proceedings, an Iraqi court dismissed the charges, citing what the AP then described as an “amnesty” law. I was skeptical this would actually bring Hussein much closer to freedom, since the Army—which actually held Hussein—had said that they wouldn’t necessarily be bound by any Iraqi proceedings. I figured this was especially true if Hussein was ordered freed on anything less than a ruling on the evidence.

It turns amnesty means something different in Iraq, according to Scott Horton, a lawyer who’s worked with the AP on the case, and whose Harper’s blog has featured plenty on Hussein and other journalists imprisoned abroad by the U.S. government.

“When we say ‘amnesty,’ it’s usually an executive act. This was a judicial amnesty based on a review of the complete court record,” Horton told me over the phone from Belgium. The court didn’t just absolve him of responsibility—they essentially found him innocent. “It was not them saying ‘you have sinned, go no more.’”

As good as news as this is, it shouldn’t be the end of the story. Now it’s time for journalists everywhere to ask, loudly, exactly why Hussein was imprisoned all this time on such meager evidence. There are still plenty of news pegs left that could bring attention to his case—the actual release, the first interview, etc.—but this morning’s A-section New York Times story announcing the news was not a promising start.

The Times paired Hussein’s release with the dramatic rescue of a western reporter, Richard Butler, who’d been kidnapped by Iraqis two months ago. An interesting story, for sure, but one that seems to have sucked needed column inches from Hussein. Of the article’s 28 paragraphs, only three mention Hussein. Butler’s capture and rescue got 20.

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Clint Hendler is the managing editor of Mother Jones, and a former deputy editor of CJR.