Iraqi journalist freed after 17 months

The U.S. military on Wednesday released a freelance Iraqi journalist who had been held without charge for 17 months after telling him more than a year ago that his detention had been “a mistake,” the journalist said.

Ibrahim Jassam, a freelance cameraman and photographer for the London-based Reuters news agency, said in a telephone interview that his U.S. interrogators had initially accused him of disseminating material relating to insurgent attacks. He had been seized in a nighttime raid on his home south of Baghdad in September 2008.

Jassam denied the charge and, after a couple of months, the U.S. military told him that he “was captured by mistake,” he said. An Iraqi court ordered him released for lack of evidence in November 2008.

The U.S. military rebutted Jassam’s claim.

“Ibrahim Jassam’s detention was not a mistake,” said Marine Lt. Col. Patricia Johnson, spokeswoman for the U.S. military’s detainee operations. “He was detained as a security threat in September 2008 as the result of activity with an insurgent organization. . . . There was intelligence evidence against him.” The evidence can’t be disclosed because it remains classified, she said.

Jassam was released, she said, under the terms of a security agreement that paves the way for the withdrawal of U.S. troops. The U.S. military has promised to hand over all detainees to the Iraqi government by August 2010. “It was his time to be released,” Johnson said.

Jassam is the last of several Iraqi journalists to be detained and eventually freed by the U.S. military in the course of the 7-year-old war. None has been charged.

Jassam said his captivity had taken a toll.

“I feel about 15 years older, and it was very painful,” he said. “Now I just want to help the other prisoners who are still in custody, many of whom are innocent.”

Ahmed is a staff writer in The Times’ Baghdad Bureau.