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No special treatment for journalists in Iraq, says US

No special treatment for journalists in Iraq, says US

Chris Tryhorn
Friday August 26, 2005

The US military has told journalists working in Iraq they will be given no special consideration after Reuters demanded an explanation for the continued detention of its cameraman in the country's notorious Abu Ghraib prison.
Reuters has been denied access to Ali Omar Abrahem al-Mashhadani since he was arrested by US troops at his home in Ramadi on August 8.

Military sources told the news agency Mashhadani was a "security detainee", implying suspected links to insurgents, but have refused to give details of any suspicions or accusations.

International press freedom groups have spoken out against the arrest, pointing out that journalists' work is likely to put them into contact with insurgents.

But a spokesman for the US forces in Iraq said they would examine any detainee "regardless of what his profession is" and that journalists would not get special dispensation.

"What we've got to do is look at the individual that was indeed detained and what was he doing, regardless of what his profession is," Major General Rick Lynch told a news conference in Baghdad, reported by Reuters.

"The policy doesn't need to change. The policy that's in effect is the one that will stay in effect."

Maj Gen Lynch said the US military would look into Mashhadani's case: "We'll look very closely at that particular situation. What was he doing that caused us to believe he was involved in suspicious activities?

"And then we will continue to work through our process to determine whether he should remain in detention, be released or transferred into the court system."

Mashhadani is now being held as a "security detainee" in Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison, where he cannot be visited for 60 days.

Reuters' campaign to gain access to the cameraman and to find out why he was arrested has been supported by international media rights groups.

"There is an intolerable denial of basic rights here," said Aidan White, the general secretary of the International Federation of Journalists. "This man is being denied visitors and there is growing concern about his welfare.

"The US authorities should reveal what, if anything, he is charged with or free him immediately."

The Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontieres said it had written to the US's commander in the Middle East, General John Abizaid, to demand Mashhadani's release.

Ann Cooper, executive director of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, said: "US officials must credibly explain the basis for the detention of Ali Omar Abrahem al-Mashhadani and other journalists being held without charge, or release them at once."

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